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Preview: Tour of Belgium

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Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil - DCM)

Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil - DCM) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Gent-Wevelgem: Tom Boonen (Quick Step) sprints to victory.

Gent-Wevelgem: Tom Boonen (Quick Step) sprints to victory. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Philippe Gilbert goes on the offensive on the Saint-Nicholas.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Philippe Gilbert goes on the offensive on the Saint-Nicholas. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Stijn Devolder will go into the 2011 Tour of Belgium looking to make history. As it stands no rider in the 93 years of the race's existence has been victorious more than twice - and that is something Devolder will be looking to change when he lines up for Tuesday's start in Buggenhout. If he is to be victorious, he will have to beat some of Belgium's top cyclists and teams and ride consistently though a diverse course.

Winding roads, cobblestones and plenty of wind make make racing in Belgium hard - and this year will be no different. Three flat stages, some cobbles, a hilly queen stage and a technical prologue time trial will favour the hard Classic’s men - but with only one decisive stage, the winner could come from almost anywhere.

The race which occurs as part of heavily-packed May schedule generally attracts a heavy Belgian contingent and 2011 is no exception. 12 of the 20 teams in attendance are Belgian and contain almost all of the stars of the Belgian racing scene, with the exception of Tour of Flanders winner Nick Nuyens. Tom Boonen, Phillippe Gilbert and last year’s winner Devolder are all lining up, as are Gert Steegmans, Jurgen Roelandts and Greg Van Avermaet.

Gilbert has only won three stage races in his career, but following a stellar 2011 so far it would be hard to discount the Walloon from winning his first Tour of Belgium. The parcours are probably the most favourable for him in years as well.

The Parcours

Organisers have subbed out the time trial in 2011 in favour of a short and sharp 5.6km prologue through the streets of Buggenhout. Specialists like Devolder or Dominique Cornu will need to get all the time they can in the opener if they want to feature in the overall.

A transitional flat 162.5km stage between Lochristi and Knokke-Heist will give the sprinters their first chance - Kenny Robert Van Hummel will no doubt be looking to back up his stage win from last year with another in 2011.

Classics specialists will savour the two lap loop on the Kemmelberg and Rodeberg, as the overall contenders look to flex their muscles on stage two. The Queen stage, a hilly 202km suffer-fest, has a real Ardennes flavour to it. Narrow roads and plenty of climbing will determine the winner as the final stage; at 169.4km is pancake flat - and will likely favour a bunch gallop.

In 2010 there were five different winners and with plenty for every type of rider this year, another unpredictable and exciting race awaits.

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Alex Hinds, Production Editor

Sydney, Australia

Alex Hinds is a graduate of Economics and Political Science from Sydney University. Growing up in the metropolitan area of the city he quickly became a bike junkie, dabbling in mountain and road riding. Alex raced on the road in his late teens, but with the time demands of work and university proving too much, decided not to further pursue full-time riding.

If he was going to be involved in cycling in another way the media seemed the next best bet and jumped at the opportunity to work in the Sydney office of Cyclingnews when an offer arose in early 2011.

Though the WorldTour is of course a huge point of focus throughout the year, Alex also takes a keen interest in the domestic racing scene with a view to helping foster the careers of the next generation of cycling.

When not writing for Cyclingnews Alex is a strong proponent of the awareness of cyclists on the road in Sydney having had a few close run-ins with city traffic in the past.

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