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Het Nieuwsblad & KBK -- Who Ya Got?

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Ohn_mediumFirst, this is not a Virtual Directeur Sportif thread, more like something to do with actual racing, which is still part of what we cover here. It's a big week all around, but time to refocus on the cobbles opener... not exactly a chore.

The usual caveats about it being February, of course, but the other big caveat is that we are a full five weeks from the Tour of Flanders, meaning riders who base their season around de Ronde might not want the engines overheating just yet.

The Het Volk winners' circle is happy to welcome the biggest names in classics racing, but is open to the B-list as well. Interestingly, while guys like Michele Bartoli, Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem are probably the most celebrated Omloop winners in the last decade, they never won either the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix in the same year as winning Het Volk... with the exception of Museeuw in 2000. And all those years (as well as anything involving Museeuw) are pretty suspect, not a good predictor of the present.

All of this is a long way of saying that the biggest names probably won't win Saturday, but one of their top lieutenants, or a big name on a smaller team, will. On the flip, a rundown of guys to watch this weekend... and an open invitation to give us your take.

Silence! Lotto are the defenders, having bought a nice little offseason present in Philippe Gilbert. Leif Hoste is in, but neither he nor Gilbert is paid the big bucks by Lotto to overextend themselves right now. Greg Van Avermaet is a very serious contender though.

The other megasquad, Quick Step, will have Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder out for a spin, but more likely to turn Sylvain Chavanel loose, with Wouter Weylandt a dark horse.

Another big name to watch is Filippo Pozzato. Winner here two years ago, Pippo is coming off a pretty fallow year and will be hungry to get Katyusha a result. Kenny DeHaes and Gert Steegmans will make for good company, or decoys, or real threats to win.

Some other interesting names: Sebastian Langeveld, Juan Flecha, Marcus Burghardt, Gerald Ciolek, Bernhard Eisel, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Matti Breschel, Thor Hushovd, Andreas Klier, Martyn Maaskant, Greg Rast, and an already-hot Thomas Voeckler.

While Het Volk can end in a sprint, Sunday's running of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is somewhat more likely to. Not terribly: only two of the last eight editions were true pack gallops to the line. But the race simply is not quite as hard... to ride. To predict is another matter. In recent years we have seen classics guys like Hincapie and Nuyens take the win; we've seen Boonen win out of revenge for missing the split the previous day; and guys like Sentjens and DeJongh taking advantage of being overlooked. From the Cyclingfever Startlist, a quick list of guys to watch:

Weylandt, Ciolek, Karsten Kroon, Gianni Meersman, Robbie McEwen, Steegmans, Heinrich Haussler, Tyler Farrar... and on and on.

My picks: DeHaes on Saturday, Kroon Sunday.