UAE Team Emirates has built their team around Alexander Kristoff for Sunday's Tour of Flanders. The Norwegian won the 2015 edition ahead of Niki Terpstra in a two-up sprint. He may not be on the list of favourites this year but he will aim for another strong performance.
"I won't be the favourite for Flanders, but the recent classics here in the north pushed my level higher, so I hope to be one of the protagonists," Kristoff said in a team press release.
Although he is lacking in Classics success this season, he has had winning results in the early-season stage races at Tour of Oman and Abu Dhabi Tour. He was also fourth at Milan-San Remo.
Offredo, Wanty-Groupe Gobert take aim at Tour of Flanders final
Wanty-Groupe Gobert's Yoann Offredo hopes to have a strong performance at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, to better his 14th place in last year's race. His prospects are a little unknown, however, as he crashed at E3 Harelbeke and sprained the ligaments in his left ankle.
He started Gent-Wevelgem but after a mechanical did not finish the race. He lined up at Dwars door Vlaanderen, the final test for Flanders, but finished 108th, with lingering pain from his ankle injury.
"As Hilaire [Van der Schueren] always says, after rain comes sunshine But I am desperately waiting for that sunshine! I hope I can recuperate in the three days to de Ronde. I will certainly not be at 100%, but I expect to be able to play a role on Sunday.
"The pain remains but I have a special bond with the Tour of Flanders. This is an appointment that I have prepared for five months, that is too much work to give in. In this context I can ignore pain and negative feelings to perform on D -Day. So I am definitely going to start. The simplest solution would have been to not start and say that I was injured, but my love for de Ronde is too big to give up.
"I take a step into the unknown on Sunday which is not my habit. Usually I focus on my goals and I can present myself in the best possible condition at the start of de Ronde. Last year I anticipated the Taaienberg and I was therefore between the strongest of the race. This time my motivation is intact, but I do not know what to expect. "
The team will also include Frederik Backaert, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Andrea Pasqualon, Dion Smith, Tom Devriendt and Mark McNally. Van der Schuren says that he wants his team to race aggressively at Tour of Flanders and be part of the final.
"I will be satisfied of the race when we show ourselves in the final. I want my riders to find the fighting spirit again. They have to be willing and dare to position themselves at the front of the peloton on the crucial points. If they do that, Backaert, Van Keirsbulck and Offredo can and will play a role in the final. In the past races and last year they showed that they are capable."
Wanty-Groupe Gobert roster for Tour of Flanders: Yoann Offredo, Frederik Backaert, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Andrea Pasqualon, Dion Smith, Tom Devriendt and Mark McNally.
UAE Team Emirates, QuickStep to Pais Vasco
While teams are focused on the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, UAE Team Emirates is also preparing their team for the upcoming Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco from April 2-7. The team will line up with Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi as team leaders for the WorldTour stage race.
Costa was forced to withdraw from the Paris-Nice after a crash but is set to return to racing in the Basque Country after spending time training on the roads of Madeira. "After my crash in the Paris-Nice, in which I sustained a contusion to my knee, I took a week off to rest; however, now I'm fine, since I've started training again with good results," he said
"I will make it to the Vuelta al Pais Vasco with plenty of room to improve my fitness level; I hope to finish the race on a high note and achieve a good result, because this is a race that appeals to me precisely because of its ruggedness."
Ulissi will use the race to prepare for the Ardennes Classics. "The Vuelta al Pais Vasco is a race that should be taken on with maximum determination every day, because each stage is challenging and could be decisive for the general classification," he said.
"The goal is to be ready in each stage and to put in consistently good performances, also keeping in mind that the Basque competition is an important launching pad for the Ardennes Classics and could give me interesting signals as to what shape I'm in."
UAE Team Emirates roster for Vuelta a Pais Vasco: Matteo Bono, Rui Costa, Manuele Mori, Jan Polanc, Aleksandr Riabushenko and Diego Ulissi
"We know from previous years how tough a race it is, and lining up with a very young team this year, we can afford to race it as underdogs," DS Brian Holm said in a release from the team. "It will be up and down almost every day with many short steep climbs tackled on small, narrow roads. It is like a one-week edition of Flèche Wallonne, basically. Despite the smaller roads, the peloton is rarely very nervous, making for a nice race, especially for the young riders. No doubt it is a tough one and it won’t be any easier if we have rain and cold temperatures, which is not uncommon for the race."
The youthful team for the six-stage race also includes first-year neo-pros Jhonnatan Narvaez and James Knox. For Holm, the race is another opportunity for his rider to race without pressure but is looking to the likes of Pieter Serry and Alaphilippe to take up leadership roles across the week.
"The ITT is not anything like we have seen in previous years, being pancake flat, however, on paper it looks like it has some technical parts with a few sharp corners. We will take the days as they come, grabbing our chances like we did in Catalunya, where we surprised everybody with offensive racing and two wins," Holm said.
"Jhonatan was one of the youngsters who impressed there along with his teammates James and Enric, all three lining up on Monday again. Without pressure, we look forward to see what they can make out of it. Pieter is one of our more experienced riders and on his best days he is a strong climber. The same goes for Julian, who has not been in action since Milano-Sanremo and is eager to get back to racing."
QuickStep-Floors for Vuelta a Pais Vasco: Julian Alaphilippe (Fra), Eros Capecchi (Ita), Rémi Cavagna (Fra), James Knox (GBr), Enric Mas (Esp), Jhonnatan Narvaez (Ecu) and Pieter Serry (Bel).
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