Het Nieuwsblad expected to be tough
Tough conditions are expected for the opening weekend of spring classics as the European season revs up a notch with Saturday's Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.
Bad weather is expected for the 66th edition of the 'Omloop', the first 1.HC race of the season.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky - pictured) will look to defend his title, local hero Tom Boonen will be hoping to break his duck in the race while compatriot Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) goes for his third victory in the event which begins and ends in Ghent.
HTC-Highroad sports director Allan Peiper says his team is ready for action no matter how hard the race conditions.
"We rode over the final 90 kilometres of Het Nieuwsblad on Thursday so we've checked out the points where it'll come down to the final survivors but the conditions are going to be tough," said Peiper,
"It was looking pretty dirty out there, there's a lot of mud covering the roads, it was wet and we're expecting a very testing event, a really muddy and murky day's racing.
"Het Niuewsblad will be a lot tougher than last year because this time they go three times across the Haeghoek cobbled section so they'll already have had some 'softening up' before they get to the really crucial part of the race."
Current world champion Thor Hushovd plus Stijn Devolder, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Björn Leukemans, Greg Van Avermaet and Lars Boom are also highly fancied but Peiper is hoping that Hayden Roulston can also be in the mix.
"Hayden's been good all the way up until now this season, including taking the New Zealand national championships, so he should be up there again," Peiper said.
"If Roulston can get over the late climbs with the front group in Het Nieuwsblad he's got a great chance on the cobbled sections that should decide the race."
Most wins - Riders
3 Ernest Sterckx BEL 1952, 1953, 1956
3 Joseph Bruyère BEL 1974, 1975, 1980
3 Peter Van Petegem BEL 1997, 1998, 2002
2 André Declerck BEL 1949, 1950
2 Jean Bogaerts BEL 1945, 1951
2 Frans Verbeeck BEL 1970, 1972
2 Eddy Merckx BEL 1971, 1973
2 Freddy Maertens BEL 1977, 1978
2 Roger De Vlaeminck BEL 1969, 1979
2 Fons De Wolf BEL 1982, 1983
2 Eddy Planckaert BEL 1984, 1985
2 Johan Capiot BEL 1990, 1992
2 Wilfried Nelissen BEL 1993, 1994
2 Johan Museeuw BEL 2000, 2003
2 Philippe Gilbert BEL 2006, 2008
Most wins - Countries
Last 10 podiums
2009 Thor Hushovd (NOR) Kevyn Ista (BEL) Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP)
2008 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Nick Nuyens (BEL) Thor Hushovd (NOR)
2007 Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP) Tom Boonen (BEL)
2006 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Bert De Waele (BEL) Leon van Bon (NED)
2005 Nick Nuyens (BEL) Tom Boonen (BEL) Steven de Jongh (NED)
2003 Johan Museeuw (BEL) Max van Heeswijk (NED) Paolo Bettini (ITA)
2002 Peter Van Petegem (BEL) Frank Høj (DEN) Michel Van Haecke (BEL)