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58th Omloop Het Volk - 1.1
Belgium, March 1, 2003
By Jeff Jones
Belgium holds its first race of the season a little later than most European countries, but that only adds to the anticipation amongst the country's ardent cycling fans. The Omloop Het Volk, which literally means "circuit of the people", but actually derives its name from the sponsoring newspaper, is one of the biggest races in Belgium - probably second only to the Ronde Van Vlaanderen in popularity. Although the parcours does not differ greatly from many of the other Belgian semi-classics, Het Volk's position at the beginning of calendar gives it a heightened status, as everyone has been waiting over four months for it.
The defending champion is the quietly spoken Lotto top man, Peter Van Petegem, whose name features in the past winners list no less than three times. Only Joseph Bruyere and Ernest Sterckx have won three editions of this classic, and Van Petegem is certainly capable of winning a fourth. Those who know him say that he's not a big one for training extra hard, he just does the kilometres, turns up on race day and lets everyone have it. He's ready for Het Volk 2003 and so is his team, which contains the likes of Robbie McEwen, Serge Baguet and Leon van Bon.
One man who takes a slightly different approach and trains himself up to peak condition is the Lion of Flanders, Johan Museeuw (Quick Step-Davitamon), winner of Het Volk in 2000. At the moment, Museeuw says he's feeling good in the legs, although the race comes a little early in the season for him. However his team contains several riders with the capability to win: Italian Paolo Bettini won the Tour of the Med and is in great condition already. He's a rider who can climb as well as sprint, and he should have an excellent chance in Het Volk. So too does 1999 winner Frank Vandenbroucke, whose knee has been troubling him a little but hasn't seemed to have affected his condition. Vandenbroucke flew up the Oude Kwaremont on Wednesday during training, and is a rider who is very hungry for a big win again.
Landbouwkrediet-Colnago boasts the Belgian champion Tom Steels in its ranks, and he is another rider hungry for a big victory. Winner of a stage of the Etoile des Besseges already this year, Steels says that he has "refreshed his memory" of the parcours, and that will help him stay out of the wind when it counts.
Looking at the non-Belgian teams, Telekom's classics specialist Steffen Wesemann will be a key man for this race, although Daniele Nardello should also be more than useful. Cofidis contains a number of riders who want to do well in Het Volk, with Nico Mattan, Chris Peers and Jo Planckaert the main men.
Look out for FDJeux's classics man in the making, Baden Cooke, winner of three races already this year and hungry for more. In the other French teams, Credit Agricole's Marcus Ljunqvist, Thor Hushovd and Stuart O'Grady should be watched, while Ag2R's Jaan Kirsipuu will also be a threat if he can get to the finish in the front group.
Rabobank seems to be putting its eggs in the Oscar Freire basket, although Mathew Hayman, Robert Hunter and Marc Wauters will surely lend a hand. Fellow Dutch team Bankgiroloterij is directed by two time Het Volk winner Johan Capiot, and will rely on his in depth information to help them during the race.
US Postal is starting its classics campaign with stalwarts George Hincapie and Viatcheslav Ekimov, with new signing Max van Heeswijk also a handy rider to have on board. Danish squads CSC and Team fakta know the parcours well, and are eager for a good performance in this opening race. Look for Andrea Tafi, Paul Van Hyfte and Arvis Piziks (CSC), and Magnus Bäckstedt, Frank Hřj and Scott Sunderland (fakta).
Of the Italian squads, there are always riders who do well in Belgium. Fassa Bortolo's Sergei Ivanov and Filippo Pozzato, Alessio's Fabio Baldato, Saeco's Dario Pieri and Stefano Zanini, Lampre's Marco Serpellini and last but not least, Sidermec's Gianluca Bortolami and Fred Rodriguez.
Join us for live coverage of the 58th Omloop Het Volk, starting approximately 11:45 local time (5:45 EST/2:45 PST/23:45 AEDT).
Weather: Despite three weeks of bright sunshine and dry weather, the drought is expected to break on Saturday in Belgium, just in time for Het Volk. Rain, probably not too heavy, is predicted, with a maximum of 12 degrees and medium strength winds.
2002 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 200 km in 4.52.30 (41.026 km/h) 2001 Michele Bartoli (Ita) 200 km in 4.52.00 (41.096 km/h) 2000 Johan Museeuw (Bel) 204 km in 5.01.00 (40.664 km/h) 1999 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) 202 km in 5.12.00 (38.846 km/h) 1998 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 202 km in 5.08.00 1997 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 1996 Tom Steels (Bel) 1995 Franco Ballerini (Ita) 1994 Wilfried Nelissen (Bel) 1993 Wilfried Nelissen (Bel) 1992 Johan Capiot (Bel) 1991 Andreas Kappes (Ger) 1990 Johan Capiot (Bel) 1989 Etienne De Wilde (Bel) 1988 Ronny Van Holen (Bel) 1987 Teun Van Vliet (Ned) 1986 No Race 1985 Eddy Planckaert (Bel) 1984 Eddy Planckaert (Bel) 1983 Alfons De Wolf (Bel) 1982 Alfons De Wolf (Bel) 1981 Jan Raas (Ned) 1980 Joseph Bruyere (Bel) 1979 Roger De Vlaeminck (Bel) 1978 Freddy Maertens (Bel) 1977 Freddy Maertens (Bel) 1976 Willem Peeters (Bel) 1975 Joseph Bruyere (Bel) 1974 Joseph Bruyere (Bel) 1973 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1972 Frans Verbeeck (Bel) 1971 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1970 Frans Verbeeck (Bel) 1969 Roger DeVlaeminck (Bel) 1968 Herman Vanspringel (Bel) 1967 Willy Vekemans (Bel) 1966 Jo De Roo (Ned) 1965 Noél De Pauw (Bel) 1964 Frans Melckenbeek (Bel) 1963 René Van Meenen (Bel) 1962 Robert DeMiddeleir (Bel) 1961 Arthur De Cabooter (Bel) 1960 No Race 1959 Seamus Elliott (Ire) 1958 Joseph Planckaert (Bel) 1957 Norbert Kerckhove (Bel) 1956 Ernest Sterckx (Bel) 1955 Lode Anthonis (Bel) 1954 Karel De Baere (Bel) 1953 Ernest Sterckx (Bel) 1952 Ernest Sterckx (Bel) 1951 Jean Bogaerts (Bel) 1950 André Declerck (Bel) 1949 André Declerck (Bel) 1948 Sylvain Grysolle (Bel) 1947 Albert Sercu (Bel) 1946 André Pieters (Bel) 1945 Jean Bogaerts (Bel) Past winners by Mario Stiehl, www.world-of-cycling.com