PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM Belgians ready to storm in opening weekend This weekend marks the opening of the Belgian season, with the 62nd Omloop Het Volk on Saturday and the 60th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday. The Belgians start racing later than the other major European cycling countries, and the opening weekend is always eagerly anticipated. And following a very mild winter, there is no threat that the races will be cancelled due to bad weather. Temps for the weekend should be around 10-12° Celsius, with a stiff southwesterly wind blowing in rain showers from the coast. Last year, Philippe Gilbert (Franaise des Jeux) took a fine win in Het Volk, with a strong ride to bridge up to the winning breakaway before taking off on his own with seven kilometres to go. On Sunday, Quick.Step flexed its muscles with Nick Nuyens winning over Discovery’s Leif Hoste and Nuyens’ teammate Tom Boonen. Both races will be run over parcourses that won’t differ greatly from the usual. Het Volk will change its starting location from the Citadelpark to the newly opened Sint-Pietersplein in Gent. It then heads southwest towards Oudenaarde and the Vlaamse Ardennen. The climbs start with the Kluisberg after 38 km, then the Cote de Trieu (km 45), Oude Kwaremont (km 51), Hotondberg (km 55), then a gap until the Muur van Geraardsbergen (km 82). The Valkenberg (km 99), Eikenberg (km 112), Leberg (km 121), Berendries (km 125), and Molenberg (km 137), the last climb, complete the bergs. There are still 63 km to go after the Molenberg, but by this stage there is usually a significant selection in the bunch. A number of flat cobbled sections serve to break things up even more, and the final 40 km of twisty, rough roads through Laarne and Wetteren typically produce a small group or solo winner at the finish in Lokeren. Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is generally considered an easier parcours and there’s more of a chance that a sprinter will win it. But that depends to a degree on the outcome of Saturday’s race, i.e. whether the big guns were satisfied with their results in Het Volk, and whether they have enough for two consecutive hard races in their legs. KBK starts in the northwestern part of Flanders, and heads southeast to the Vlaamse Ardennen. But it only includes eight climbs and fewer cobbled sections than Het Volk. The final climb is the Nokereberg at 47 km to go, then it’s flat to the finish in Kuurne. The riders pass the finish line with 21 km to go, and have to complete two laps around Kuurne before the end. The classics men will be keyed up for this weekend, with Philippe Gilbert returning to defend his Het Volk title. The two big Belgian teams, Quick.Step and Predictor-Lotto will be there in force, with Tom Boonen, Gert Steegmans, Peter Van Petegem (Quick.Step) and Leif Hoste and Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto). Discovery is missing George Hincapie, who broke his wrist in the Tour of California, and Vladimir Gusev, who is recovering from a crash in the Volta ao Algarve. It will be relying on Stijn Devolder for some early season fireworks. Rabobank is bringing classics specialists Juan Antonio Flecha, Max van Heeswijk and Mathew Hayman to the party, while Team CSC has an Australian flavour to its line-up with Stuart O’Grady, Luke Roberts, Matthew Goss and team director Scott Sunderland. 2006 KBK and 2005 Het Volk winner Nick Nuyens will be riding for his new Cofidis team, while T-Mobile will be relying on its specialists Andreas Klier and Servais Knaven. Filippo Pozzato will be an interesting one to watch in his new Liquigas strip. He’s been freed from the Quick.Step yoke and now has the chance to shine on his own. Unibet.com will be trying to make the most of its time at the top level, as its future currently depends on the outcome of the struggle between the UCI and the grand tour organisers. Look for sprinters Baden Cooke, Jeremy Hunt and Jimmy Casper to do something. Finally, Frank Vandenbroucke will be starting his season with Acqua e Sapone. Belgian fans know by now that this might be one of the few chances they’ll have to see him in action this year. For more information, look at the official sites for Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Paris-Nice poker: ASO raises the ante A day after the UCI threatened ProTour teams with “heavy sanctions” if they took part Paris-Nice, ASO has responded with its own warning. ASO boss Patrice Clerc told De Telegraaf, “When a team lets itself be pressured by the international cycling union not to start in Paris-Nice, then I don’t see why that team will have a different opinion for other races like the Tour and Paris-Roubaix.” These two races organised by ASO are two of the jewels on the cycling calendar, and the ProTour teams are now being faced with a difficult choice: to defy the UCI or defy their sponsors. Already, Cofidis and Franaise des Jeux are considering pulling out of cycling next year, while Belgium’s national lottery (Lotto) could also withdraw if its team is banned from racing in these races. Meanwhile, Unibet.com has written to the organisers of the three grand tours asking them to “bury the hatchet” with the UCI in this dispute that threatens to tear professional cycling in half. Unibet is not happy with the organisers, who haven’t invited them to any of their races, and accused them of handing out “cash cards” instead of “wild cards”. “We feel strongly victimized by the cartel ASO, RCS and Unipublic and discriminated w.r.t. Pro ‘cash’ Continental Teams,” wrote Unibet. “The economic damage to our team and our partners, suppliers & staff of not participating in all ProTour Races would be tremendous. The cartel wants to exclude Unibet and we have to oppose this with the all other ProTour teams. Since, at each race, other UCI ProTourTeams could be excluded. Whose turn will it be next?” Procycling.com has RSS! By popular demand, we have introduced an RSS feed for Procycling.com. A link to the feed can be found on the Procycling.com home page, just above “home” in the left hand navigation. There’s an additional news feed link to the right of “latest news” once you are reading an article. The link to bookmark is /rssfeed.aspx. What is RSS? 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The Belgian opening weekend happens this Saturday and Sunday with the Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Bru