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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Omloop Het Volk News Special for February 26, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones

Hammond in the dark

By Shane Stokes

Normally he'd be one of those in the reckoning for a strong result but Roger Hammond isn't quite sure what to expect this weekend. A new team, a different race programme and the first season without a cyclo cross background means that the Discovery Channel rider is in the dark as regards his prospects in Het Volk and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.

"I really don't know what to expect," the British road champion told Cyclingnews today. "My form is not quite 100 percent as I have been a little bit ill since coming back from the Ruta del Sol last weekend. I think it is due to going from hot weather back into cold, so I just have to get used to that again.

"The thing about Het Volk is that it is the first proper (one-day) race of the year so you really don't know how you are going to go. I know the form is okay because I have been fine in the stage races I have done (Tour of Qatar and the Ruta Del Sol), but these ones are another level up and a different style of racing. Also, I'm in a different team than before - Discovery is a really strong team so I could end up riding for someone else. I don't think there will be any average results from me this season as a result. I will either have good legs and be up in the front, or I will be helping other people."

Hammond's excellent third place in Paris-Roubaix last year, allied with his cross background, shows he is at home on cobblestones and in tough conditions. He finished thirteenth in K-B-K last season. "Het Volk is not my favourite race but it is not bad either," he said. "I've been okay there in the past. Last year I was in front in Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne with a couple of guys from Mr, Geert Omloop and Jo Planckaert. I ended up having to do a bit of teammate's role as both of them ended up in the front group of eight. So I sat back in the group behind, waiting for the second move."

When asked who the strong men on the Discovery Channel squad should be, Hammond mentions Max van Heeswijk and Stijn Devolder as two who have shown good form in recent weeks. "There are a few guys from our team who have been cited as favourites. Max was going well in the Ruta del Sol and Stijn is really strong. We don't know how we are going to play things yet, though. We are going to sit down tomorrow morning and work out how we are going to ride the race.

"There are some very strong riders on other teams. I think that Boonen is a major threat for Het Volk. But, for me, Van Petegem is the favourite. He has won the race three times so he knows how to do it. He has got a strong team (Davitamon-Lotto) and I think he's motivated to prove that he is still a man to be reckoned with in the Classics, really. I know he has been a bit sick in recent days, but in the Ruta del Sol he was really strong."

CSC: It's a numbers game

By Jeff Jones in Gent

There were some happy team directors and some unhappy ones after the Het Volk team managers' meeting in 't Kuipke in Gent this afternoon. The all important drawing of lots to determine team car position in the caravan was made, and with 22 teams fighting for position, anything out of the top 10 was seen as a disadvantage. Thus, Phonak lucked out with the number 1 spot, followed by Francaise des Jeux, while Davitamon-Lotto, Quick.Step, Discovery and CSC were all between 13th and 20th.

Cyclingnews caught up with a slightly disgruntled CSC director Scott Sunderland after the meeting. Scott was fuming that he'd been given 16th, especially as he'd originally had a good position but the lots were redrawn after one team director complained that he'd missed it, seemingly by virtue of being asleep. "Well it doesn't look like I'll be seeing much of the race from back there," Sunderland mused as we asked him about the plans for tomorrow.

"Normally with Het Volk the race starts straight away," he explained. "There's no riding into it like Tour of Flanders or something like that. Het Volk and Harelbeke are really similar - they're full on all day, like the last 200 km of Flanders. And with the cold conditions, it makes Het Volk very difficult to see where the riders are and their physical level. You're fighting the cold, the kilometres, the cobbles...and you get a lot of guys who get to 170, 180 km and 'boom', the lights go out. There's always a surprise and that's the good thing about Het Volk. It's a barometer for everybody and for the next races.

"There are some really difficult points, like the Kwaremont, Mater, Eikenberg, Muur and so on, but they are always a bit too early in the beginning. What they do do is give a chance for an early escape. Because by the time you get to those points, you're 50 kilometres into the race, so if an escape goes away, the last 50 kilometres is relatively flat apart from the cobblestones. So there's only really 100 kilometres that they have to survive out there. Het Volk is always a good race for a group to be out the front. Even if they do get you back, you're in the front group by the time they catch you. In some cases, they've succeeded to stay away.

"What I'll be asking my boys to do is to have as many riders as we can in the front group with 50 kilometres to go. It's being defensive but being attacking as well. If a group does go away then we'd like to have one or two in it, but otherwise we'll just make sure we're there and keep up the front. There are a few extra sections of cobbles just after the Paddestraat. Instead of having that nice, wide run into the final sections of cobbles, they've got a few more twists and turns and a few more obstacles. It'll make it a little bit harder to get organised in a chasing group from behind, so if a group is away there, it should be a bit more difficult to come back."

"For the first race on the cobbles, we're just going to see how the legs are. We've got three or four guys probably on the same level, physically, but we'll just have to see how they handle the cobbles tomorrow. But the team in general is very strong and they'll be prepared to give it up to one of the other guys and ride for them if they're having a good day. The main objective is to get as many riders together in the last 50 kilometres in the front group. If you've got numbers in this type of race with so many cobbles at the end, you've seen it before, the tactics play a big role at the end. Even if your individuals aren't the strongest, you can actually overcome the stronger individuals from the other teams because of the numbers."

Finally, on the weather conditions, Sunderland commented, "It's going to be cold, but it shouldn't be too dangerous. It should be a good day's racing."

An interview with Serge Baguet & Peter Van Petegem

Fire and ice

Belgian Davitamon-Lotto riders Serge Baguet and Peter Van Petegem are good friends despite their different personalities: Baguet reserved, Van Petegem more outgoing and even pugnacious. Baguet has made a remarkable comeback this season with two stage wins already, while Van Petegem has his sights set on the Classics. But there's far more to life than just racing bikes, as Cyclingnews' Sabine Sunderland found when she caught up with the duo on a cold and wintry February afternoon.

Serge Baguet
Photo ©: Davitamon-Lotto
Click for larger image
Peter van Petegem
Photo ©: Davitamon-Lotto
Click for larger image

The smell of fresh coffee greets us at the door of the romantic and classy farmhouse in Letterhoutem which Serge and his wife have built in the midst of the rural landscape. The cobblestone driveway, lined with copper garden lights and the copper drainpipes underneath the red tiled roof give the picture a typical Flemish feel.

"This used to be a tiny, old cottage you know," Serge smiles when we make a remark about the size of the house and the garden. "My family and I did most of the work ourselves; the roof of course was done by my father-in-law. Remember, I worked for him for three years."

Indeed, from 1996 till 2000 Serge disappeared completely from the cycling scene while he worked for his father-in-law on rooftops all over Belgium. It wasn't a decision which was made overnight. Serge, who was always a very promising junior and young pro experienced what we could describe as a burn-out in the mid-nineties.

"I was so disappointed about how the sport was evolving at that moment. I mean, I was a good rider when I became a pro; but suddenly, guys who couldn't get out of my wheel as youngsters, started flying past me on climbs and in the sprints. There's no need to draw a picture I think. I had only won eight races since I turned pro and that was not enough for a guy who was considered as one of the most capable riders in the Belgian peloton. The whole situation got me depressed and disappointed, so I stopped."

"But the fire wasn't dead. When Scott [Sunderland] started training again after his accident in '98, I often joined him and I found joy in riding again. After a while, Scott said jokingly, 'mate, you're riding as good as all the others, why don't you give the pro life another go, it's different now, you'll see.'

"Supported by friends and family, I went looking for a team. Besides Jeff Braeckevelt, there were few people here in Belgium who believed I would still be able to do it, but befriended people in the Lotto board of direction wanted to give me chance."

And Baguet didn't let them down; in his first year back in the pro peloton, he thanked his sponsors with a solid season and in 2001 Serge took a brilliant victory in the Tour de France, stage 17 to Montlušon.

Click here for the full interview with Serge Baguet and Peter Van Petegem.

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