Lotto Soudal head into the 'opening weekend' of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with the team brimming with confidence after a strong start to the 2018 season. The Belgian team lead with Tiesj Benoot, Jens Keukeleire, and Tim Wellens, with the latter on form after a winning performance at the Ruta del Sol earlier in February.
"The Belgian opening weekend is the real start of the new season. We can't complain about our preparation. Many of our riders have shown a great shape and we have already won a few races, with different riders. I was often told that it has been a while since our team raced a good opening weekend. Of course we hope we can set a great performance this year," team boss Marc Sergeant said in a press release.
The team won two stages at the Tour Down Under in January, courtesy of Andre Greipel, but Wellens' recent performances saw him take a well-deserved stage and the overall in Spain. Though he is not a cobbled Classics regular, his form cannot be ignored.
"Benoot, Keukeleire and Wellens are the big names in our line-up, but with riders like De Buyst and Wallays we have a strong team in general. I expect that we can show ourselves. Tim was strong at Ruta del Sol and Tiesj Benoot has just returned from a training camp at Sierra Nevada."
Keukeleire joined Sergeant's team over the winter from Orica-Scott, while Benoot was third in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2016. The latter, still just 23, is raring to go after starting his season at the Vuelta a San Juan in January.
"During my training camp at Sierra Nevada I didn't see much of my opponents for the opening weekend, so I don't know where I stand. I can say that I came home with a good feeling. But, training is no race and I'll know how my form really is after the Omloop. This is the first important race of the season," Benoot said.
"I have chosen [to do] a training camp at the Sierra Nevada because last year's altitude training camp in the run-up to the Tour was such a good experience. I felt good about that approach and I wanted to do the same for the Classics.
"I have trained in Spain, but I won't be hindered from the difference in temperature. At the top of the Sierra Nevada it was even colder than here in Belgium. The weather won't influence the race, unless there is a lot of wind."
Lotto Soudal: Lars Bak, Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Keukeleire, Lawrence Naesen, Jelle Wallays and Tim Wellens.
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