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58th Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne - 1.1
Belgium, February 27, 2005
By Jeff Jones
Normally taking place the day after Omloop Het Volk, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne forms the second half of the Belgian opening weekend. It's a different style of parcours compared with Het Volk, and often the hardened sprinters prevail in Kuurne, a West Flemish town on the outskirts of Kortrijk. As with Het Volk, the weather conditions will play a role, and even though the snow will probably stay away, it will still be extremely cold with temperatures hovering just above the freezing point.
After the start in Kuurne, the race heads due east to the turning point at Ninove (km 60), which is as close to Brussels (25 km) as the riders get. The outward journey is fairly uneventful, as nearly all the climbs are reserved for the second two thirds. After passing through Geraardsbergen, but not via the Muur, the real climbing begins at La Houppe (km 91). Then it's onto the Kanarieberg (km 98), Kruisberg (km 103), Oude Kwaremont (km 108), Mont Du Trieu (km 123), Tiegemberg (km 134), and the final climb, the Nokereberg (km 144).
As with Het Volk, there are still 45 km to go to the finish after the last climb, so a regrouping is possible, depending on how hard the race has been ridden up to this point. Following the cancellation of Het Volk last year, K-B-K was a little more intense than normal, and a group of eight riders got away in the closing kilometres to contest the sprint. Steven de Jongh (Rabobank), who relishes cold conditions, won ahead of Paolo Bettini and Gerben Löwik.
The wind often plays a factor in the finale, and this Sunday there are moderate northeasterly winds predicted, which will assist the riders coming home. At this stage, the forecast maximum is -1 for the centre and 1 for the coast, so it's going to be a real race for those best adapted to the conditions.
Steven de Jongh is lining up again for Rabobank, wearing number 41 as number 1 appears to be reserved for Tom Boonen (Quick.Step). De Jongh is definitely a man to watch, as he is fast and likes the cold. He'll be supported by a solid Rabobank unit, including Maarten den Bakker, Jan Boven, Matt Hayman, Gerben Löwik (3rd last year), Joost Posthuma, Roy Sentjens (winner in 2003) and Marc Wauters.
No matter what happens on Saturday, Quick.Step will be motivated to put Boonen or Bettini in a winning position, with Bettini no doubt wanting to make up for his defeat last year. Davitamon-Lotto will be without Tom Steels and Robbie McEwen, which will weaken their chances in a sprint, but Peter Van Petegem and Serge Baguet are in form and will both have good chances.
T-Mobile will have a strong all-round team, with Daniele Nardello, Steffen Wesemann, Serguei Ivanov and Andreas Klier all capable riders. Discovery Channel looks good on paper with George Hincapie, Slava Ekimov, Roger Hammond, Stijn Devolder, Leif Hoste and Max van Heeswijk in the blue and white jerseys. CSC will be counting on Lars Michaelsen, Tristan Hoffman and Jakob Piil to carry the flag.
For La Francaise des Jeux, the recovering from illness Baden Cooke and recovering from tendonitis Brad McGee are unlikely to be at peak fitness for KBK. On the other hand, Belgian Philippe Gilbert could do something. Cofidis will be represented by Stuart O'Grady, who was fourth last year, and Jimmy Casper, a very handy sprinter, and Cedric Vasseur, a strong all-rounder who is particularly suited to the classics.
Credit Agricole will be relying on Jaan Kirsipuu, who won in 2002, as Thor Hushovd is under the weather. Phonak's Robert Hunter is in good shape, and if he finds the weather to his liking could be a surprise at the end. Speaking of surprises, Classic Haribo winner Gorik Gardeyn (MrBookmaker.com) is lining up along with the irrepressible Geert Omloop and Jeremy Hunt, all dark horse candidates for KBK.
Ludovic Capelle will be Landbouwkrediet's sprinter, while Steven Caethoven will fulfil that role for Chocolade Jacques. All in all it's a big field with 24 teams of eight riders registered, but which one of them can withstand the icy Belgian temperatures?
Cyclingnews will be covering the 58th Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne live, starting 14:30 local time (CET)/08:30 (USA East)/05:30 (USA West)/00:30 (Australia East).