The opening weekend races in Belgium are almost as big as the Tour of Flanders, say Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
The team are racing this weekend's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with stars including Yves Lampaert, Philippe Gilbert and Bob Jungels. Their other riders are in the UAE Tour fighting for Elia Viviani.
"The opening weekend in Belgium is very big, almost as famous as Tour of Flanders," said Geert Van Bondt, winner of the 2000 Ghent-Wevelgem and sports director in the Middle East.
"Of course, we are born there. I live in Ninove, so Omloop Het Nieuwsblad finishes in my town. Of course, we are following it here in the UAE even if we have to be focused on our races."
Team boss Patrick Lefevere flew to the Emirates to see his young Belgian Remco Evenepoel race and to support Viviani, who won stage five on Thursday. He could not stay, however, with the tension building back home in Flanders.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step will once again be the centre of focus when Omloop starts, and all the way through the final kilometres of Paris-Roubaix on April 14.
With some changes, like Niki Terpstra leaving to Direct Energie, the team will need to adjust to stay on top. Last year, Terpstra led the team to victory in the Tour of Flanders.
"The team changed a bit when Tom Boonen retired. We had one strong big leader but when Tom stopped, but we widened our scope and play the cards in the best way we could," continued Van Bondt.
"We don't have Terpstra this year, but we have Bob Jungles, who's going to try in the cobbled Classics before the Ardennes Classics. It was an idea of his. He won junior Paris-Roubaix when he was 15 or 16, we know that he's good on them and knows the routes, he's an intelligent person and learns the roads quickly. He's a big asset to the team."
"Niki is gone, but we have Bob in his place. We have Philippe Gilbert and his experience, Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar, who showed good condition in Algarve a couple of weeks ago. This year could be the year for Lampaert to win a big Classic."
Lampaert won the Dwars door Vlaanderen the last two years. This year, with Terpstra gone, he will have a greater role in the bigger monuments like Flanders and Roubaix.
Van Bondt will help in the UAE Tour and watch with attention this entire spring.
"Tom Steels and Wilfried Peeters are the specialists in those Classics. It's also my dream to be a DS in those races, I did them before when I worked for Team Garmin," said Van Bondt.
"Ninove is my hometown, the finish line is two kilometres away, so I want to do it. But it's also great to be with these guys."
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