The last weekend of February will launch the spring classics campaign. The UAE Tour, which opened the World Tour calendar this year, will reach its conclusion on Saturday, but straightaway on the same day, the first one-day race of the World Tour will be on the menu with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad (1.UWT). The one-day cobbled race disputed between Ghent and Ninove will be followed, as tradition goes, by Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (1.Pro) the very next day. A fantastic opening weekend in Belgium which Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux had long been waiting for.
For its 76th edition, the 200-kilometer parcours of the Omloop het Nieuwsblad remained virtually unchanged with its three passages over the Haaghoek-Leberg, the presence of the Paddestraat, Molenberg and Berendries and with the famous duo Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg as the last obstacles included in the final 20 kilometers of the race. Ninove has welcomed the finish line of the first classic of the opening weekend since 2019. Last year, Aimé De Gendt proved solid in that race, fighting in the group for 5th place with a late move. In the end, in sight of the Onderwijslaan, he was caught by the group in pursuit, and settled for a 19th place on the line. The rider from Erembodegem will have another chance this year and lead the selection of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux on the first classic of this opening weekend.
For Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last year, Andrea Pasqualon was part of the main group that competed for second place behind winner Kasper Asgreen. However, the Italian finished outside the top 20 after a disappointing sprint and is now determined to do better for this 73rd edition. The organizers have set the number of race kilometers just below the 200 mark. Even though the start and finish are set in the municipality of Kuurne (West Flanders), the bulk of the race takes place in the Flemish Ardennes, in East Flanders and Hainaut. Most of the difficulties on the menu are located between 93 and 54 kilometers from the finish, with the climbs of La Houppe, the Kanarieberg, the Kruisberg, the Hotond, the Knokteberg, the Oude Kwaremont and the Kluisberg.
Along with Pasqualon, the German Jonas Koch, the Dutch Boy Van Poppel and the Belgian Pieter Vanspeybrouck will appear on both races this weekend. On Saturday for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, sports directors Hilaire van der Schueren and Steven De Neef will also rely on De Gendt, Taco van der Hoorn and Loïc Vliegen in their team. For Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux will line-up with Ludwig De Winter, Tom Devriendt and Danny van Poppel in addition to the aforementioned quartet. In preparation for this big weekend, the ten riders went on a recon training this Wednesday of the last 115 kilometers of the Omloop het Nieuwsblad and tested their new Newmen Advanced SL STREEM R.50 tubeless wheels with Continental GP5000 TL 28mm tubeless tires on the nine cobbled sections and eleven climbs. They did so under a nice spring weather uncharacteristic of an opening spring classic weekend.
Hilaire Van der Schueren (Sports Director):
«The recon of the Omloop het Nieuwsblad parcours taught me that the decisive move may happen between the slopes and cobblestones next Saturday. I already have a precise area in mind that I will warn our riders about. The pleasant weather conditions can ensure that the race will be less difficult than usual, although racing can always prove otherwise. »
“In any case, all our riders are very motivated. I heard positive feedback about the suitability and performance of the material on the cobblestones, and Aimé De Gendt has extended this collective training with a few kilometers motor-paced, which shows his commitment. He may not have a raceday yet, but I'm sure he already has enough in the tank to play a role. He gave me a very sharp impression. Overall, our ten riders had good sensations on the cobbles, so I'm very much looking forward to starting the spring classics. »
Aimé De Gendt:
«This will be my fifth consecutive participation in the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, a classic that I always look forward to. Racing in your own region adds an extra motivation to a race. Last year there was a lot of wind, so the race was hard from the start. This year, the nice weather means that there may not be big differences, which can bring extra nervousness in the run-up to the hilly part. I want to be there when most of the damage is done, and after the second training camp I have full confidence that my team mates are ready to help me do exactly that. »
“My condition is on point after a good pre-season. Originally, we had planned for me to start this weekend with a few race kilometers in the Tour de Algarve but it was ultimately cancelled. Of course, it would have helped to polish up the last percentages of my condition, but we replaced it with a very efficient training camp with the team. I know I will not be the only one in that situation, in fact it will also be the case for most of my competitors, so it is difficult to judge where I stand yet. No matter what, we know who we will need to keep an eye on, for instance the Deceuninck-Quick-Step who always come up with a strong roster. I feel ready to compete with them! »
«Within a few days I will make my debut in the Omloop het Nieuwsblad. I look forward to these first kilometers on Flemish roads and the first cobbled sections of the year. Everyone is motivated and ready for this first test. I am confident that I am, as far as I'm concerned. I'm convinced that Aimé (De Gendt), Loïc (Vliegen) and I can go far with the help of our teammates. The recon was useful for me to discover the important bits. The second passage over the Haaghoek seems to be a crucial point to make the difference, and of course the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg may provide the final decision for victory. »
“I don't need to tell you that we all enjoy these weather conditions when it comes to racing on the cobbles. But along with the temperatures, the wind and eventually the riders are the factors that determine the course of the race. The latter may prove the most influential, so it is a question of who will take charge of the pacemaking in the peloton. In Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne I expect that, just like last year, a large group of about fifty riders will be able to contest the win. Last season, I was part of this peloton of favorites, but this time I want to sprint for victory with Danny (Van Poppel) instead of a second place! »
Selection Omloop het Nieuwsblad:
Aimé De Gendt
Taco van der Hoorn
Boy van Poppel
Ludwig De Winter
Boy Van Poppel
Danny Van Poppel
Hilaire Van der Schueren
Steven De Neef