Tomorrow marks the start of virtually uninterrupted Belgian classic racing, with the relatively low-key Nokere-Koerse. Coming as it does between the end of Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo, there aren't many pro tour teams willing to leave the Riviera for this race, so the competition is largely B-list. But it's on cobbles, many of which will be featured a few times in races we all care about. And it's on the Virtual Directeur Sportif calendar too.
The official site is in Flemish, but you can get a sense of the course: starts in Oudenaarde, passes through the hallowed cycling grounds of Petegem, and after about 50km hits Nokere, where the race does ten laps around Nokere-Waregem-Kruishoutem, each of 15 kilometers, totalling about 196km. There is also something about a 2007 videoclip if you hit "info 21 maart" in the left sidebar. Highlights? or Live??
The start list includes the last three winners, Bert Roesems, Max Van Heeswijk and Stephen De Jongh. Last year Roesems time-trialed home for the solo win, to the great consternation of runner-up Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step). Weylandt is back, though with De Jongh as a teammate. Graeme Brown will be Rabobank's sprinter, though Van Heeswijk is there too. Jimmy Casper will rep Unibet and Roesems presumably gets the nod for Lotto.
But this should also be a solid opportunity for the non-Pro Tour teams. Nico Eeckhoudt (Chocolate Jack), Nico Mattan (DFL), Martin Tjallingii (Skil), Bas Giling (Wiesenhof), and old horse Steffen Wesemann (Wiesenhof) are all names that jump out. No doubt there are another dozen continental guys I know nothing about who could also be in the mix.