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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, February 24, 2017

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Marcel Kittel taken out of contention in Abu Dhabi stage 1 crash

Here's Team Quick Step Floors' story:

Final kilometers of the day were peppered with crashes, and the Quick-Step Floors rider was among those involved.

Stage 1 of Abu Dhabi Tour was all about the final kilometers, as the fast men of the peloton were expected to fight in a sprint royale for the victory and the first leader's jersey of this year's edition. Until then, six riders animated the day as part of the breakaway, but they didn't get to pose a threat for the pack, despite taking their advantage to more than five minutes in the first part of the stage which traveled from Baynounah Educational Complex to Madinat Zayed, over 189 kilometers.

Petr Vakoč was among those to pull hard at the head of the bunch, chewing into the escapees' advantage and making sure they'd get caught before the real action of the day kicked off. In the final kilometers, which were really frantic and messy, Quick-Step Floors moved to the front and provided Marcel Kittel three teammates to lead him out, but unfortunately a crash under the flamme rouge took the German to the ground. With the group split, it was a reduced bunch gallop in the end, won by Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), ahead of André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida).

Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish wins the Abu Dhabi Tour's first stage

Marcel crossed the line a few minutes later, but with the crash occurring in the last three kilometers, he got the same time as the winner. Following that incident, the Quick-Step Floors rider was left with several abrasions on his knee and elbow, but his participation in stage 2 isn't put under any doubt.

Before going into the team bus, Marcel –winner of the Dubai Tour this season – explained what happened: "I was in the wheel of Sabatini as we were closing in on the line, then Owain Doull came from the back and our handlebars got stucked in each other, and I crashed and lost some skin. Things like this happen when everyone is nervous in the final and wants to be in the front. It's a pity, because I felt good today and the team worked really well. It's a bit of a setback, but at the same time it motivates me even more for the next stages."

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is Saturday

For some racing fans the season starts Saturday with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which starts and ends in Gent, Belgium. Sunday will see Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. At this point it looks like there will be light rain on Friday with the temperature dropping to 34F (1C) that night. On Saturday, the forecast is for cloudy skies, 10% chance of rain and a temperature of about 50F (10C). Wind should be 16mph (26 km/h), from the SSW.

Here are BMC's plans for the Belgian weekend:

23 February, 2017, Santa Rosa, California (USA): Omloop Het Nieuwsblad defending champion, Greg Van Avermaet, will be back at the start line this Saturday, 25 February, looking to repeat his success at the opening weekend in Belgium.

The Belgian lines up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne after showing solid early season form in Spain and Oman, Sports Director Valerio Piva said.

Greg van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet

"We're excited to be racing again at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and this time with the defending champion, Greg Van Avermaet, in our ranks. The opening weekend in Belgium means that the cycling season is well and truly underway, and now that the race is UCI WorldTour we are even more determined to do well. Greg will have a very strong team around him for both races, with more of a focus on the sprinters for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday," Piva explained.

"For Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, we have Tom Bohli, Silvan Dillier and Miles Scotson stepping in to replace Floris Gerts, Michael Schär and Francisco Ventoso. BMC Racing Team has had an excellent start to the year and we hope to build on this in Belgium."

Van Avermaet is excited to race on home soil for the first time this year. "I've had a good start to the season in Spain and Oman, but there is nothing like racing on home soil. Having won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last year, for sure I want to come back and do well again at both races. It will be a good indication of my form at this time of the year, knowing that my big goals are to come in April," Van Avermaet said.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (25 February)

Rider Roster: Jempy Drucker (LUX), Martin Elmiger (SUI), Floris Gerts (NED), Stefan Küng (SUI), Daniel Oss (ITA), Michael Schär (SUI), Greg Van Avermaet (BEL), Francisco Ventoso (ESP).

Sports Director: Valerio Piva (ITA)

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Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (26 February)

Rider Roster: Tom Bohli (SUI), Silvan Dillier (SUI), Jempy Drucker (LUX), Martin Elmiger (SUI), Stefan Küng (SUI), Daniel Oss (ITA), Miles Scotson (AUS), Greg Van Avermaet (BEL).

Sports Director: Valerio Piva (ITA)

And here are Lotto-Soudal's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad plans

Two more days before the Belgian cycling season begins with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The race has been awarded WorldTour status since this year. The Lotto Soudal riders did a recon of the course a few weeks ago. There lie thirteen hills on the almost 200 kilometres long course. The Molenberg is the last one at 35 kilometres from the finish. There are ten cobblestone sections, the Lange Munte being the last one. From then on 20 kilometres are left towards the finish in the centre of Ghent.

Today Tiesj Benoot and Jürgen Roelandts took time for the press and talked about their expectations for Saturday.

Jürgen Roelandts: “I had a similar preparation as last year. I started the season at Challenge Mallorca and rode Volta ao Algarve afterwards. The Vuelta a la Región de Murcia and Clásica de Almería were added to my programme. It has been the third year that I haven’t raced Down Under. Changing my race programme has proven to be a good choice.”

“I had a good start of the season, now I can’t wait to start in my kind of races. It’s for this period that I trained last winter. This is what I have worked for. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, on Belgian soil, is still special for me as a Belgian. I really love this race. It’s WorldTour now, but I would want to win this anyway.”

“The weather is a factor in every race. I have no problems with rain, as everybody knows. In such conditions I feel better than most other riders and that increases my chances.”

Jurgern Roalndts

Jurgen Roelandts

Tiesj Benoot: “I am really happy about how I got through the off-season. I suffered from stomach problems last year due to my crash at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. That lasted until the beginning of November. Since these problems have gone, I feel so much better. It really was a burden, especially mentally. My first races went really well. At Mallorca and Algarve I showed myself in the stages I wanted to. My peak still has to come, but I am a rather consistent rider. I want to be ready from day one.”

“Last year, I finishhed third at the Omloop and that means I can win as well. But then all has to fall into place: I can’t crash or have a puncture. It was almost impossible for me to beat Sagan and Van Avermaet last edition, I knew that. Attacking wasn’t an option though because of the headwind and the peloton that was so close behind us. I hope that the circumstances will be different if I get in a similar position this year. It’s nice to hear that someone like Peter Sagan calls me a favourite for the Omloop, but that doesn’t help me in the race.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Debusschere, Frederik Frison, Nikolas Maes, Jürgen Roelandts, James Shaw and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

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