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61st Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne - 1.1

Belgium, March 2, 2008

Sprinters sharpening their axes for Kuurne showdown

By Gregor Brown in Gent

2007 winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step) is again a favourite
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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The opening weekend of one-day classics remains strong thanks to the 61st Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Many of the riders that tested themselves the day before in Omloop Het Volk on Saturday will also line up in the 193-kilometre race, starting and ending in Kuurne, west of Belgium's capital city.

The 'semi-classic' is not as highly ranked by the UCI as the previous day's race (1.1 as opposed to 1.HC); however, it is a race win that any rider desires to have in his palmarès. Recent winners include Belgians Tom Boonen, Nick Nuyens and USA's George Hincapie, while past greats such as Roger De Vlaeminck, Walter Planckaert, Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem all have victories here.

The 193-kilometre parcours does not have the difficult pavé sectors featured in the Omloop Het Volk, and usually sees those hard-men with a turn of speed prevail. The riders will face the first of seven hellingen ('climbs' in Flemish) at kilometre 29 with the Edelareberg, and before kilometre 146 they will encounter the rest of the day's vertical affairs; La Houppe (km 91), Kanarieberg (km 99), Kruisberg (km 103), Oude Kwaremont (km 110), Cote Du Trieu (km 124), Tiegemberg (km 135) and Nokereberg (km 146).

The Nokereberg leaves enough distance – 43 kilometres to go – for the sprinters' teams to come to terms with any escape that has formed; this was the case last year with Quick Step turning the screws on Matthé Pronk (Unibet.com) and Preben Van Hecke (Predictor-Lotto) to yield a Belgian Tom Boonen victory.

Without knowing the results and causalities of Saturday's race, the favourites will be Boonen and his team-mate, World Champion Paolo Bettini, Australian Robbie McEwen and Belgian Leif Hoste (both of Silence-Lotto) and 2006 winner Nick Nuyens (Cofidis).

Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto) rules himself out but Cyclingnews does not
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
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27 year-old Boonen has been firing early this year in the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of California; he and Bettini will share leadership responsibilities while looking for team-mates Gert Steegmans and Belgian Champion Stijn Devolder to have a hand in glory. Quick Step has a final option in 2004 winner Steven De Jongh.

Silence-Lotto's Hoste noted that he is focusing on April but he is still a danger-man. "I am concentrating on the Ronde van Vlaanderen. This is still three to four weeks away, so I am still off my best form," the 30 year-old told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake. We may see Hoste working for his team-mate McEwen if the 35 year-old can make it over the hellingen with zippy legs.

Looking deeper into the peloton, riders like Lithuanian Tomas Vaitkus (Astana), Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Australian Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) and Italian Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) are candidates for the win. Quinziato's team-mate, Filippo Pozzato, may take a back seat if he has a good race on Saturday.

High Road has options to play with Brit Roger Hammond, Austrian Bernhard Eisel and German André Greipel. These guys are no clowns when it comes to one-day racing in hard conditions, plus they will be aided on the team's good start in the Tour of California, where the 2005 Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne winner, George Hincapie, won the final stage. However, the USA rider will not be partaking to save himself for Paris-Nice.

Other riders to watch out for include Nico 'Rambo' Eeckhout (Topsport Vlaanderen), Gorik Gardeyn (Silence-Lotto), Max Van Heeswijk (Willems Veranda's Continental Team), Aart Vierhouten (P3Transfer - Batavus), Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner), Serguei Ivanov (Astana) and Frank Vandenbroucke (Mitsubishi-Jartazi).