The temperature may have been hovering above freezing in Ghent on Saturday morning but there was a distinct sense that spring had sprung as the peloton gathered in Sint-Pietersplein for the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the race which heralds the beginning of the Belgian cycling season.
The peloton has warmed up all around the globe in recent weeks, from Australia to Oman, but any early-season indications of form will be given a rather more robust test over the 199 kilometres and twelve climbs that make up the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
A quick canvass of the riders edging their way to sign on suggested that Lars Boom (Blanco Pro Cycling) is considered the danger man this afternoon. The confident Dutchman’s stage victories at the Tour Mediterranéen and Tour du Haut Var have not gone unnoticed among his peers and he has a perfect foil in the form of defending champion Sep Vanmarcke.
While Boom is the riders’ choice for victory, Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) was the man highlighted in Saturday morning’s edition of newspaper Het Nieuwsblad as the number one favourite for the win. The Italian won in 2007 and, fresh from victory at Trofeo Laigueglia, he enters this year’s race on a high. “I hope that being picked as favourite doesn’t bring me bad luck,” said Pozzato, who, like many, wrapped up against the cold: “I’m not worried about it. It’s normal here, we’re in Belgium.”
The fans’ favourite in Flanders, however, is Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and as always, the loudest cheer of the morning was reserved for Tommeke, who was one of the last riders to reach the podium to sign in. The reason? His progress from the team bus was blocked by television crew upon television crew, all looking for a word with the Belgian champion.
A relaxed Boonen was happy to oblige, although he insisted that he is not among the contenders for the win today given that he began his season later than planned due to an elbow infection. Even so, Boonen – and many other classics contenders – will have the first serious gauge of their spring form on twelve hellingen of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
For an exclusive start line picture gallery, click here.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.