German sprinter John Degenkolb starts his classics season tomorrow in Ghent, Belgium, with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and hopes to come out of it a star.
"It's a great feeling to roll to the start with all the fans. It's special to sign on in Ghent in the big square. It's like in the Tour of Flanders, in Brugge, you feel like a rock star on the podium in front of all the crowds," Degenkolb told Cycling Weekly. "The passion of cycling in Belgium can't be compared."
The 24-year-old Argos-Shimano rider sprinted to five stage wins in the Vuelta a España last year, but proved versatile in the classics. In the spring, he placed fifth in Milan-San Remo and sixth in E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke.
"Those are my goals again this year," he continued. "We still have a lot of time until then, I'm looking forward to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad first."
Degenkolb returned from racing in the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman this week. He helped team-mate Marcel Kittel win the opening stage of Oman.
Europe was a shock. Yesterday, the Omloop and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne teams trained on the parcours under clouds with the mercury at 1°C.
"It was a hard day on the bike. The temperature difference compared to Oman is huge," Degenkolb said in a team statement. "It was a productive day. I'm looking forward to this weekend."
He will compete with Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Thor Hushovd, Taylor Phinney and Adam Blythe (BMC Racing), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Geraint Thomas (Sky) and last year's winner Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco).
"The guys from BMC were riding really strongly [in Qatar], especially on the first day when there were cross-winds," Degenkolb told Cycling Weekly. "I'm curious about the Blanco guys, they now have Sep Vanmarcke there. Lars Boom won the TT in Tour Méditerranéen."
Like those big names, Degenkolb dreams of the big monuments, San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"You can categorise me with Peter Sagan [Cannondale] or Thor Hushovd," he said.
"I've got a lot of self confidence from last season and I rode my ass off over the winter to be in shape for these races."
Brit Lucy Garner will debut as a pro in the women's race with team Argos-Shimano. It is her first race after she won the junior World Championship title last year in Valkenburg.
The Argos team will ride for Charlotte Becker.
The cold weather is expected to continue in northern Belgium. Riders can expect a high of 1°C and clouds, with some snow expected in the evening.
Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel set for Belgium showdown
NetApp-Endura recce Het Nieuwsblad route
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