Etixx – Quick-Step ready for the Belgian opening week-end
Tom Boonen, Iljo Keisse, Nikolas Maes, Tony Martin, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, Julien Vermote and Lukasz Wisniowski will race the first cobbled Classic of the season.
On Saturday and Sunday, Etixx – Quick-Step will line-up for the 71st Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, respectively the 68th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, two races which saw the team taste success for a combined total of 8 times in the past. Created in 1945, Omloop marks the start of the cobbled Classics season, driving the fans' passion early in the year, as the riders are coming to the start in Ghent prepared to overcome the small climbs, the cobbled sections and the cold weather in order to get the glory at the end of a 200 km-long journey. Covering iconic climbs such as Muur-Kapelmuur, Valkenberg or Taaianberg, and the cobbled sectors of Haaghoek, Paddestraat or Lange Munte, the race is sure to provide the riders plenty of opportunities to attack and make the difference.
This year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad features a new climb, Boembekeberg, which is going to replace Molenberg. The hill will come just 32 kilometers from the finish, and 2005 World Champion Tom Boonen is curious to see what it will bring to the race: "It's more or less the same parcours, a nice and fast one, that we already know. The arrival is different, with a slight uphill finish, which may change things. Concerning me, I feel good and today I enjoyed a nice day on the course. It was really nice today on the cobbles. We have a strong team and we look forward to the week-end. Omloop will be an important race also to see the level of our opponents. I'll try to do a good race, but my goals, as everyone knows, come later in the season. Still, we will do our best to deliver a nice result for the fans and the team."
When Tony Martin announced he will focus also on the cobbled races this season, it didn't came as a surprise to many, because he proved at last year's Tour de France, where he won a stage, that he's capable of taming the cobbles. Still, the three-time ITT World Champion is aware that on Saturday things will be completely different than in the Grande Boucle, and that's why he is willing to learn as much as possible ahead of this new challenge. For Tony, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will mark the second time in his career that he'll ride a cobbled Classic, following the 2008 Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he came 42nd.
"It was a nice experience, a mix of cobbles on the climbs and on the flat. I really liked it. Of course, it will be different during the race, when 200 guys will fight to get to the front. I'm feeling good, I'm happy and I can't wait for Saturday to come. My teammates and Tom Steels explained to me today how important is to be at the front when the real race starts. I will also watch some videos of the past editions again, to get the feeling of the race, and I'm sure I will be ready for Saturday", said Tony following Wednesday's recon.
Sport director Tom Steels, a winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad back in 1996, also shared his opinion on the race: "Today we did 140 kilometers and everything went smooth. The guys tested the bikes and displayed a great spirit. I think we are prepared for this week-end. The final of Omloop is changed a bit, with a short uphill section in the last kilometer, so in case of a sprint arrival it won't be easy, but we are confident we can do a good race."
Unfortunately, Yves Lampaert won’t be part of the team for Saturday and Sunday, as he suffered a transversal fracture of the manubrium sterni in a Volta ao Algarve crash. As consequence, he will take a break in the next days, in order to rest and make a full recovery. During this time, Yves will begin his kino therapy for the blocked neck, before he starts training on the rollers. Depending on the level of pain and on how things will go in this period, the young Belgian will begin training also on the road. His condition will be reassesed in a week.
“I’m sad not to be part of the team”, Yves Lampaert said. “It will be painful to watch the guys on television, but it is as it is. Now it’s time to recover and get back on the bike as soon as possible, in order to prepare the next races and the Northern Classics.”
Less than 24 hours after completing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Etixx – Quick-Step will ride Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (203 kilometers). Although the cobbled hills are a feature also here, the course is much more sprinter-friendly, especially as the last hill comes with 50 kilometers left of the race. A three-time winner of the semi-classics – which stands as the all-time record – Tom Boonen will lead a squad which also includes Iljo Keisse, Nikolas Maes, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Stijn Vandenbergh, Martin Velits, Julien Vermote and Lukasz Wisniowski. The team is subject to change depending on what will happen on Saturday’s race.