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61st Omloop Het Volk - 1.HC

Belgium, February 25, 2006

Who can knock Quick.Step off the throne?

By Jeff Jones in Gent

2005 winner Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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The Belgian cycling season officially opens with the Omloop Het Volk, which has been held on the last Saturday in February for the last few years. It's traditionally a very cold affair, with temperatures not much above zero, and rain, sleet, and even light snow common weather conditions. The Belgians love it, though, as it signals the end of the long off-season, and the start of the fabled northern classics.

The race starts in Gent and finishes 202 km later in Lokeren, which is only about 20 km east of Gent. The parcours winds its way through southeastern Flanders, taking in 10 climbs, the last of which is 64 km from the finish. Several cobbled sections in the last 30 km serve to break things up for what would otherwise be a bunch sprint, but the latter is still quite possible, of course.

The defending champions are the Quick.Step team, which boasts 2005 winner Nick Nuyens and the reigning World Champion and runner up last year, Tom Boonen. With an impressive lineup that also includes Steven de Jongh and Filippo Pozzato, Quick.Step will be the team to beat again. Boonen will be heavily marked, but he is in form and full of confidence.

As usual, the Davitamon-Lotto team will be doing its best to take the race to Quick.Step. These two big Belgian rivals have a lot of firepower, and Davitamon brings three-time winner Peter Van Petegem to the party, along with top sprinter Robbie McEwen. The Australian believes he can win in a bunch sprint, as long as he survives the climbs and cobbles that he knows so well.

The other teams in the race will be able to use the Quick.Step/Davitamon rivalry to their advantage, maybe giving them that crucial hesitation needed for a winning attack to stick. CSC is bringing its classics squad with Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Lars Michaelsen, while T-Mobile will rely on Andreas Klier, Sergei Ivanov and Steffen Wesemann.

Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd is in improving form, no doubt smarting at being beaten by Cofidis' Arnaud Coyot last Sunday in the Classic Haribo. The team has an alternative winner in Jaan Kirsipuu, while Laszlo Bodrogi and Jimmy Engoulvent can provide necessary grunt. Rabobank will be without De Jongh this year, but has experienced Belgian Marc Wauters and Australians Mathew Hayman and Graeme Brown.

Discovery Channel played an important role in the opening weekend last year, and once again, Stijn Devolder is back to try to give Tom Boonen a hard time. Roger Hammond, Leif Hoste, and Max Van Heeswijk are all familiar with the Flemish roads, and Het Volk will test their form.

For the other main Belgian teams, Niko Eeckhout will be the front man for the Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen squad, while Filip Meirhaeghe will form part of the Landbouwkrediet-Colnago team. Baden Cooke will be one to watch in Unibet.com.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 61st Omloop Het Volk on Saturday, February 25, starting 14:00 local time (CET)/08:00 (USA East)/05:00 (USA West)/00:00 (Australia East).