Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe prepare for the first cobbles action of the season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (L.Claessen/ISPA)
The first semi-Classic of the season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kicks-off on Saturday, and defending champion Ian Stannard was out on a route reconnaissance on Thursday with Team Sky teammate Luke Rowe.
Former British National Road Race champion Stannard was the first Brit to win the race, which is historically dominated by Belgians, with 54 of the 69 editions of Het Nieuwsblad won by home riders.
Bradley Wiggins will also be on the startline to ride in support of Stannard, as he continues his build-up to Paris-Roubaix.
>>> Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015 preview
Rowe and Stannard were out training just east of Oudenaarde on the Haaghoek sector of Pavé, which features three times on the course at 59, 110 and 157km, with seven other sectors to take on along the route as well.
They weren’t the only ones out training either, as Sep Vanmarcke lead his Lotto.NL-Jumbo out on a recon as he eyes a second win in Het Nieuwsblad after winning the race in 2012.
The Belgian will be hoping for a victory in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix later in the year as well, having already come close to a monument with a second place in Roubaix in 2013 and third in Flanders last year.
Stannard (left) rides as defending champion and has a strong team around him which includes Bradley Wiggins along with Rowe (right) (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Rowe charges ahead of Stannard up the Haaghoek climb just east of Oudenaarde (L.Claessen/ISPA)
The former British national champion will be hoping to get through the Classics with no injuries this year (L.Claessen/ISPA)
The Sky duo ascend the Haaghoek (L.Claessen/ISPA)
It’s not quite Roubaix or Flanders, but the het Nieuwsblad course has plenty of difficult sections for the riders. (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Sep Vanmarcke and his Lotto.NL-Jumbo teammates were also out on a course recon (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Vanmarcke won Het Nieuwsblad back in 2012 (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Lotto will show off their new colours for the first time in a Classic after switching from being Belkin last year. (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Vanmarcke will be hoping his teammates can help him to a win at Flanders or Roubaix after some high placings in recent year (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Jos Van Emden powers along a cobbled sector ahead of the race proper on Saturday (L.Claessen/ISPA)
The 200km course contains 11 hellingen and 10 pavé sectors to deal with (L.Claessen/ISPA)
Maarten Tjallingii rides up the Haaghoek (L.Claessen/ISPA)