Yes regulars and newcomers, it's finally, finally, finally time for the real kickoff of the 2007 road season - the beginning of the Western Europe Cobbled (Semi)Classics, brought to you by Omloop Het Volk. For those of you who read Dutch, the official website is here Hey, it's Het Volk!. For those of you looking for a little history of the race (started in 1945 as a rival to The Ronde) go here.
Traditionally held on the last Saturday of February or first Saturday of March, Het Volk can be a nasty, vicious, brutally unforgiving reintroduction to the realities of racing in Belgium in late winter (unless you're a native Flemish rider or just a guy who enjoys suffering for 5 hours). It's a 200K jog starting in Gent and ends in Lokeren, about 20 clicks away. Before that though the riders proceed south for about 40K and meander around a 25 square kilometer area that encompasses 9 of the 10 official climbs. More than a few are featured in April's Tour of Flanders, including the ridiculous Muur de Geraardsbergen - a 1.5K cobbled monster that undulates through the town square, up a 20% grade that has to be ridden to be believed (did it twice), and finally past the coolest church in the world at the top.
It's a place for the true April contenders to show their stuff, and the fans are just completely out of their minds. Having experienced Flanders and Gent Wevelgem first hand last year I can only imagine how fired up the crowds will be. Songs will be sung, beers will be quaffed, babies will be signed, and flags will be waved. All we have to do now is pick the favorites. Without further adieu (and counting heavily on Start Lists!) the following riders should be in the mix at the end of the day:
FDJ - Gilbert (2006 winner)
Lotto - Hoste
Quick Step - Boonen, PVP
Rabobank - Van Heeswijke, Flecha
CSC - O'Grady, Kroon
Discovery - Devolder, Gusev
Cofidis - Nuyens (2005 winner)
T Mob - Knaven, Hammond, Eisel, Klier
Liquigas - Pozzato
Unibet - Cooke
There are other ProTour teams starting as well (Astana, Boygee Telecom, CA, Milram, AG2R) and a bunch of Continental teams, but I don't have confidence that the winner will come from that group (no offense meant). I mean just look at T Mob - they are freaking stacked. When you run down the list of support riders you can make the same case for QS, Discovery, and CSC. I will be shocked if the winner does not come from one of the 10 'favored' teams. Shocked.
Additionally, for those of you new to the site we will have a live thread going from the start of the race (or whatever time cycling.tv starts broadcasting). Please join us and absolutely feel free to participate in the thread, we want as many people throwing comments and observations into the mix as possible. I think you'll find it a very enjoyable way to enhance your race viewing pleasure. Chris will send $100* to the first person to correctly guess the day's winner.
*$100 may be counterfeit. Money is not suitable for trade, barter, internal consumption, or use in Liars Poker.
[editor's note, by chris] Yep, I'll send you $100 as soon as Drew sends it to me.