Preview: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

One-day racing returns to Belgium as Classics preparations get serious

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kicks-off the weekend, offering riders the chance to tackle the famous Kapelmuur after a three-year absence.

Its controversial, and continued, removal from the Tour of Flanders has attracted criticism, but the cobbled giant returns to the Omloop for its 69th edition.

Defending champion Luca Paolini, pictured at last year’s Tirenno-Adriatico (pic: Sirotti)

Though roadworks mean there are two less climbs than last year’s event in total, Valkenberg and the Wolvenberg again feature on the 200km route.

At 50km from the finish, and followed by three new cobbled passes – Ruiterstraat, Karel Martelstraat and Holleweg – the latter could well play a decisive role.

The Haaghoek, with riders facing three passages of the short cobbled section, also remains the same as in previous editions.

As the traditional warm-up to the Tour of Flanders, Boonen is among the riders keen to test his legs on the short cobbled climbs, but the provisional start list shows he will face stiff opposition.

Former team-mate Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and 2013 Milan San-Remo winner Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) lead the charge from the pro continental teams, and that is before considering the WorldTour talent on offer.

Keen to start making an impression on the one-day scene, Team Sky are set to include Luke Rowe – a self-confessed lover of the cobbles – and Bernie Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen will both be keen to prove they are capable of winning these sort of races.

Greg van Avermaet and former winner Thor Hushovd lead BMC Racing’s charge and defending champion Luca Paolini (Katusha) returns to don dossard number one.

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