Follow Cycle Sport?s Twitter updates from Belgium?s opening race, Het Nieuwsblad, this weekend.
Roger Hammond goes into Saturday?s Het Nieuwsblad hoping to have shaken off the effects of a cold.
The Cervélo Test Team rider got his season off to a flying start with a stage win in the Tour of Qatar last month.
?Coming back from the warm there to the cold in Belgium is always difficult to adjust, then the Tour of the Algarve was a harder race than perhaps we needed, then you get on the plane and you?re surrounded by people coughing and spluttering,? he said.
?I?ve not felt my best the last couple of days but I?m shaking it off now and I hope to be fine for the weekend.?
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad has been rebranded this year after more than 60 years as the Omloop Het Volk. The Het Volk newspaper ceased publication last year and the race now takes the name of the title that took it over.
Hammond says that since two-time winner Peter Van Petegem took over as race director, the race has got harder.
?It used to be a tougher season opener, now it?s a really tough season opener,? he said.
?The last hill is a lot closer to the finish, which means it?s a more aggressive race for longer. It used to be that if you got to halfway, you could hang in there on the flatter run-in.?
There are 11 hills, including the Muur in Geraardsbergen, which has been reinstated after being missed out last year, in the 204-kilometre race, which starts and finishes in Ghent.
A BOOST FOR BRITISH CYCLING
Hammond welcomed today?s announcement that 2010 will see the launch of the British-run Team Sky, but said it was unlikely he?d be a part of it.
?I?ve got a two-year contract with the Cervélo Test Team, so that takes me up to the end of 2010,? said the 35-year-old, who said he had not begun to think of retirement yet. ?There?s a lot of bike racing to do between now and then, and you never know what will happen then.
?It?s great news for British cycling, isn?t it, and hopefully it?ll give the young riders something to aspire to. I do hope the youngsters don?t take for granted what the federation [British Cycling] is doing for them. They?ve got fantastic opportunities which haven?t existed before. It means they don?t have to move to Belgium and try to make it on their own. It?s a lot easier now and there are a lot more opportunities.?
OFF TO A FLYER
Hammond enjoyed his win in Qatar and hoped it would be the first of several this year. ?It was great to win, and yes, it was nice to be the first British winner of the year on the road. What?s amazing is we then had a couple more wins the same week [with Mark Cavendish]. A few years ago it used to take months to get the first British win of the season at that level, so it?s a great time to be racing.?
QUICK STEP VERSUS SILENCE-LOTTO?
Last year Quick Step and Silence-Lotto, the two big Belgian teams, were completely outfoxed, although it was a home rider who triumphed, Philippe Gilbert.
Gilbert switched from Française des Jeux to Silence-Lotto in the winter and will be the logical favourite for the race.
However, it is often the case that the riders with their hearts set on the first week of April, when the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix are held, tend to be just off their best form.
This paves the way for the four-star contenders to step forward and impress. So, we're not expecting fireworks from the likes of Tom Boonen, who was in California last week, or Leif Hoste. Perhaps even Gilbert will hold off and allow his team-mate Greg Van Avermaet to be the team leader.
Quick Step will maybe elevate their new French rider, Sylvain Chavanel, who was second overall at the Tour of the Algarve, ahead of Boonen and Stijn Devolder.
Filippo Pozzato, a former winner of this race, desperately needs a big victory, so he could be dangerous in one of his first appearances for the Russian Katusha team.
Cervélo will be strong, with Andreas Klier, Thor Hushovd, Roger Hammond and Heinrich Haussler all in good form.
Of the younger riders, look for Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin), who was the revelation of Paris-Roubaix last year, and Gerald Ciolek (Milram).
Saturday, February 28
Leberg at 77km
|CW'S TOP 10 TIPS FOR HET NIEUWSBLAD|
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step)
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto)
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia)
4 Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Slipstream)
5 Nick Nuyens (Rabobank)
6 Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto)
7 Filippo Pozzato (Katusha)
8 Andreas Klier (Cervélo Test Team)
9 Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto)
10 Gerald Ciolek (Milram)
Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder (Quick Step)
Dmitriy Muravyev (Astana)
Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis)
Arnaud Gerard, Gianni Meersman (Française des Jeux)
Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas)
Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank)
Gert Steegmans (Katusha)
Stuart O?Grady (Saxo Bank)
Roger Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, Thor Hushovd (Cervélo)
2008 Philippe Gilbert
2007 Filippo Pozzato
2006 Philippe Gilbert
2005 Nick Nuyens
2004 Cancelled because of snow
2003 Johan Museeuw
2002 Peter Van Petegem
2001 Michele Bartoli
2000 Johan Museeuw
Philippe Gilbert launches his race-winning attack in last year?s race
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Sports journalist Lionel Birnie has written professionally for Sunday Times, Procycling and of course Cycling Weekly. He is also an author, publisher, and co-founder of The Cycling Podcast. His first experience covering the Tour de France came in 1999, and he has presented The Cycling Podcast with Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe since 2013. He founded Peloton Publishing in 2010 and has ghostwritten and published the autobiography of Sean Kelly, as well as a number of other sports icons.
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