A double winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Philippe Gilbert will open his Spring Classics campaign at the Belgian one-day race, knowing that a victory would make him joint record holder, together with four other riders.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (196 kilometres), comes with a new finale, mirroring the old one of Ronde van Vlaanderen, with the legendary combo of the Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg. These will be the last two of the day’s thirteen hills before the finish in Ninove and should prove decisive in the outcome of the race which this year runs its 73rd edition.
Niki Terpstra, runner-up three years ago, and Zdenek Stybar will add depth to the seven-man Quick Step Floors, ensuring the Belgian squad will not be short of options on Saturday afternoon.
Dries Devenyns, Iljo Keisse and Yves Lampaert will also be part of the team, which will be rounded out by Fernando Gaviria; victorious in four races this year. The Colombian will make his first outing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, after getting a taste of the cobbles in his previous seasons with the team at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem.
On Sunday, Tim Declercq, Fernando Gaviria, Iljo Keisse, Yves Lampaert, Maximiliano Richeze, Florian Sénéchal and Niki Terpstra will ride the 70th edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but the roster that will take on the 200km-long race which includes 12 bergs can change depending on what will happen at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Quick-Step Floors Directeur Sportif Tom Steels gave a preview of the two cobbled races: “The opening weekend is an important one for many riders, who will come with big expectations, ready to test their condition after the winter training and the first races of the season. Let’s not forget the fans, who too are eager to see the first battles of the year unfold on the cobbles of Omloop. One day later, we’ll get another taste of the cobbles at Kuurne; on paper, it’s an easier race, but it all depends on the weather, because if we have rain, then it won’t come down to a bunch sprint.”
“It will be interesting to ride the new Omloop finale, similar with the one Flanders had until 2011. The new finale is a demanding one, and we’ll just see if it will lead to an open race or make the riders take a more defensive approach. We will be there with many cards, strong guys who have shown a good form these past few weeks; some of them can go from afar, while others can make use of their speed in case it comes down to a small group sprinting for the win. We are confident and really looking forward to these races”, concluded Steels, a winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad back in 1996.