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59th Omloop Het Volk - 1.1
Belgium, February 28, 2004
By Jeff Jones
After a winter of watching Bart Wellens and Sven Nys duel it out in the dirt and mud, the attention of Belgian cycling fans will fully switch to the road on the weekend of February 28-29 with the 59th Omloop Het Volk and the 57th Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, the country's two traditional season openers. In addition to being the first race of the season, Het Volk is also one of the most prestigious to win, especially for a Flemish rider. Last year, Johan Museeuw showed that he hadn't been idle over winter as he and his Quick.Step team ripped the race apart to finish four riders in the top five. But with Museeuw a little off form at the moment, the race is wide open.
The 200 km parcours which starts in Gent's Citadelpark and finishes in Lokeren features nine of the famous bergs of the Vlaamse Ardennen, a region in the southern part of Flanders. These, combined with a series of cobbled sections over the last 30 km make it a challenging parcours, even though bunch sprints are certainly not out of the ordinary in this race. However, with snow and strong winds predicted all week in Belgium, it could be a very fragmented affair.
This year's hills start with the Côte de Trieu after 44 km, continuing with the tough Oude-Kwaremont (km 51), Kanarieberg (km 66), Abdijstraat-Muur (km 89), Kleiberg (km 106), Eikenberg (km 116), Leberg (km 127), Berendries (km 131) and Molenberg (km 139). The final hill comes with 60 km to go but the Molenberg is no easy task. The riders will turn off a wide road into a narrow, cobbled laneway past a mill, which suddenly gets very steep for 300m before the summit is reached. A short, narrow descent follows and it's back to the flat and windy roads again.
Quick.Step had already forced a selection by the Molenberg last year, and once over that, five of them team time trialled to the finish with van Heeswijk, Pozzato and Farazijn in tow, with Museeuw eventually proving too strong for the rest and riding away to a solo win.
In addition to the climbs, there are several key cobbled sections that will make a difference, especially if the conditions are bad. The Holleweg at Volkegem (km 117), Haaghoek at Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke (km 124), Paddestraat/Lippenhovestraat at Velzeke, just after the Molenberg (km 145) and the Vogelzangstraat in Lokeren (km 184) will all present opportunities for attacks.
Quick.Step-Davitamon's Johan Museeuw will certainly start as one of the favourites, having won this race twice previously and never a man to bet against in a Flemish classic. His lack of form due to sickness this year may mean that one of his teammates, such as Paolo Bettini or Tom Boonen, gets a chance.
Right behind Quick.Step is Lotto-Domo, with three time winner Peter Van Petegem already showing some good legs in the early season Spanish races this season. With Robbie McEwen there for a bunch sprint and Leon Van Bon for an opportunistic breakaway, watch for Lotto-Domo in this important race for them.
Landbouwkrediet-Colnago's Tom Steels won Het Volk back in 1996, and the sprinter seems to be recovering his form again after suffering for a long time with glandular fever and subsequent illnesses. But he suffered a setback in mid-February when he crashed during the Track World Cup in Moscow, and had to have 60 splinters taken out of his back.
Last year Max van Heeswijk (US Postal-Berry Floor) surprised a few people by taking second place from the wheels of the Quick.Step steam roller. This year he's back and already has wins to his credit this year. Along with a healthy George Hincapie and the promising Stijn Devolder, US Postal could well make its mark again in Het Volk.
Frank Vandenbroucke (Fassa Bortolo) is perhaps a little under-raced this season to be in top condition for Het Volk, but he also knows the roads like the back of his hand and could well be up there in the selection. Of the other Italian teams, Saeco will be looking to Dario Pieri to kick off his classics campaign in a strong manner, while Lampre's Romans Vainsteins could be one to watch. Alessio-Bianchi's leader will likely be Fabio Baldato, who will have able support from his team which includes "local" Scott Sunderland.
Looking at the French teams, Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) will probably be the protected man in his team, while Cofidis will be looking to put Stuart O'Grady in a good position. Crédit Agricole's Thor Hushovd will have support from Andrey Kashechkin, who was excellent in this race last year. FDJeux.com's Baden Cooke, Bernhard Eisel and Matthew Wilson tend to be their best performers in Belgium.
For T-Mobile, Andreas Klier, Daniele Nardello and Steffen Wesemann are the guys to watch, while Frank Høj will lead Danish Team CSC's charge. Finally Rabobank will be there with riders like Steven de Jongh, Roy Sentjens, Mark Wauters
Join us for live coverage of the 59th Omloop Het Volk, starting approximately 11:45 local time (5:45 EST/2:45 PST/23:45 AEDT).
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