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Walscheid, Boasson Hagen lead NTT challenge at Gent-Wevelgem

Max Walscheid leads NTT teammate Domenico Pozzovivo on the opening stage of the 2020 Tour de France
Max Walscheid leads NTT teammate Domenico Pozzovivo on the opening stage of the 2020 Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Max Walscheid and former winner Edvald Boasson Hagen will lead the NTT Pro Cycling team at Sunday's Gent Wevelgem, and sports director Lars Michaelsen – also a former winner – says he hopes that the team's current underdog status may count in its favour.

Boasson Hagen won the race in 2009, riding then for the Colombia-Highroad squad, but has yet to take a win in 2020, although he came close, taking second place on stage 7 of the Tour de France in Lavaur behind Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert.

Walscheid won two stages and the points classification at the Tour de Langkawi in February, and the 27-year-old was also part of this year's Tour squad, riding the race for the first time in support of Boasson Hagen and the team's main sprinter, Giacomo Nizzolo.

However, the team has struggled for results in recent seasons, and is now fighting to find a new sponsor after telecommunications company NTT announced at the end of last month that it wouldn't continue to back the team in 2021.

"I think I've carried some good shape out of the Tour de France, and I'm definitely motivated for the upcoming Classics," Walscheid said in a team press release on Saturday. "I think that there may be some chances to go for a result for me, and I hope to start doing that at Gent-Wevelgem.

"I'm feeling good, and it was nice to do a ride in good weather today on our final training ride ahead of the race. We don't expect great conditions, but we got used to that last week at the BinckBank Tour, where conditions weren't great," he said.

"I've done the race once before, and the main obstacles stay the same, but otherwise the route has changed a little bit, so it was good to see it, to get an impression, and get a feeling for the race," the German sprinter said. "The hilly part will definitely be tough, and perhaps we have a small advantage in that it's in our short-term memory, but we hope to be well positioned at the crucial points."

Directeur sportif Michaelsen rode the race 11 times during his career, winning it in 1995 and finishing second – behind Frank Vandenbroucke – in 1998, and so knows the race better than most.

"Obviously, we have a team that will be considered as underdogs, and I think that's how we should look to get the best out of it," Michaelsen said. "We need to cope with the fact that we are not favourites, and try to fight to surprise a few people, and I think that's how we can aim for a result.

"The [climb of the] Kemmelberg has always been, and will always be, a key moment in this race. In Gent-Wevelgem this year, we pass it three times: twice from the south and the final time from the north, which is a bit steeper, with cobblestones on both side.

"It also depends on the weather on the day," he added. "It's all very open in West Flanders, and so it depends on the direction of the wind. I don't think that we will have any heavy rain.

"Wind is a factor, the time of the season is a factor," Michaelsen said, with the race having been postponed from its usual late-March calendar slot, "and then some of the riders in the peloton are flying like Wout van Aert [Jumbo-Visma], Mathieu van de Poel [Alpecin-Fenix] and Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck-QuickStep], so let's see how it goes."