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62nd Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne - 1.1

Belgium, March 1, 2009

Belgian squads fight to dominate Kuurne Classic

By Bjorn Haake

Quick Step will be strong for 2009, even without 2008 Kuurne winner Steven De Jongh
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

A day after the highly prestigious Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Belgian Classics continue with Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The 193-kilometre journey takes the riders outside of Flanders and into the province of Brabant, with a brief visit to Wallonia.

For the last two years the race has been dominated by Quick Step, but Belgian opponent Silence-Lotto will be doing everything they can to reclaim the honours they previously held between 1998 and 2000. They'll have their work cut out for them though: last year Quick Step dominated the race, with six of its eight riders making the winning break of 20.

Don't expect such a display this year – not because Quick Step won't be a force, but because other teams will pay more attention this time. Also, part of Quick Step's motivation last year was a bad race at Omloop Het Volk.

Quick Step will also be minus defending champion Steven de Jongh, as he is out with tendonitis. But Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder will still be in the hunt. Boonen has already tasted victory in Kuurne in 2007, while Devolder will be fully motivated for the Classics after his great win in the Ronde van Vlaanderen last year.

The biggest threat to a Quick Step victory comes from rivals Silence-Lotto, with Belgian champion Jürgen Roelandts, cobble-specialist Leif Hoste and new signee Thomas Dekker.

But there will be threats from several other teams. Columbia-Highroad sends a quality squad with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Marcus Burghardt and Bernhard Eisel, and Rabobank have veteran Juan Antonio Flecha leading their ranks. Saxo Bank lines up with Matti Breschel and Karsten Kroon and Katusha has Robbie McEwen and Gert Steegmans on hand.

The new Cervélo TestTeam has strong men for the race as well: Roger Hammond, Andreas Klier, Jeremy Hunt and Heinrich Haussler, sharing a mix of experience and youthful talent.

Cervélo will be a strong force
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Lower down the ranks, it's worth keeping an eye on the An Post Sean Kelly team. They added Niko Eeckhout and Benny de Schrooder to the roster over the winter, which should boost the experience level.

The route

The race starts with a detour during the neutral roll-out and stops in front Frederiek Nolf's house. The Topsport Vlaanderen rider passed away during the Tour of Qatar.

After paying their respects, the riders face their first hellingen after 29 kilometres. There are a lot of flat kilometres after that, before La Houppe is climbed at kilometre 91, as the peloton heads into Wallonia.

This is followed by the Kanarieberg in Ronse (km 99) and the Kruisberg (km 103). Neither is particularly difficult, but with 90 kilometres in their legs and a fight for position at the front, expect to see riders dropped here. The Oude Kwaremont (km 110) will make the first selection. The cobbled climb is not too steep (11 percent maximum) but it is a bad section of road that gets slippery quickly.

Climb number six is the Côte du Trieu (km 124), just before the Tiegemberg (km 135). The final climb comes at km 146, the Nokereberg. It is neither steep (average gradient 5.7%, maximum 7%) nor very long (350 metres) and the cobbles are not bad. So a decisive move is not expected here – the selection has to come earlier.

Once in Kuurne the racers will face two more laps of a ten-kilometre circuit. But don't think the final, flat run-in back to Kuurne is a cakewalk – you can bank on the Belgian wind to make the finale tough and interesting.