Britain?s top Classics specialist, Roger Hammond, says there?s no predicting what will happen when the 2007 Belgian road-race season kicks off this Saturday with the 203 kilometre Het Volk semi-Classic.
?Het Volk is influenced by a lot of different factors – the weather, which can be very wintry at this time of year, how motivated and what kind of condition the Belgian favourites are in for their first big race of the year, and what state the roads are in as well.? Hammond told CW?s website.
The top British finisher in 2006 – he was 16th in the same group as Tom Boonen and Thor Hushovd – the T-Mobile pro will reconnoitre the last 30 kilometres of Het Volk on Friday. But he?ll skip the Kwaremont and Grammont murs.
?The Kwaremont and the Grammont are important in Het Volk, but not as crucial as in Flanders because they?re a lot further away from the finish – 45 kilometres or so.? Hammond pointed.
?What you really need to be sure of is whether they?ve made any changes in the last flat part of the course, because if the break goes on the Grammont, that last part is where the race really is decided.?
Last year there were three sections of cobbles in the final 20 kilometres of Het Volk, with one five kilometres from the finish. None of them are on climbs, but according to Hammond ?they?re still really important for the final outcome.?
?They?ve got a few bends during the cobbled sections and if you get it slightly wrong – like I did a few years back – you lose your momentum. By the time I
re-accelerated the group was 100 metres down the road and at times like that when you?re going flat out anyway, it was game over.?
As for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday, which Hammond will also be riding, ?how that race develops a lot on what?s happened in Het Volk.?
?The big names will still be in good form, but as for the outsiders, depending on how hard you?ve gone the previous day, you?re either up there or jaded.?
?Both races are open. Really, so early in the season anything can happen.?
All eyes will be on Belgian star Tom Boonen (Quick Step) on Saturday and Sunday, but Hammond particularly rates the chances of Boonen?s old team-mate and the former Tour of Britain winner Nick Nuyens (Cofidis).
?He was in great shape at Besseges.? Hammond pointed out. ?Personally, I reckon he?s got a better chance of winning than Boonen.?