Belgian cycling season kicks off this weekend with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

The Belgian cycling season officially kicks off on Saturday with a packed first weekend. On Saturday, the riders set off for the 79th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent. One day later the peloton gathers in Kortrijk for the 76th edition of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Wout Van Aert will be the big favourite in both races. The 29-year-old rider has already shown his good form with a stage win in the Volta ao Algarve last week. He is also a veteran of Omloop het Nieuwsblad, having won the race in 2022. Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, on the other hand, will be a new experience for the Visma-Lease a Bike rider.

"I have been working towards this weekend. I am ready for it. As a team we have to assume that we can win because we are starting with a very strong unit," Van Aert told Belga on Thursday evening. "We don't have to hide with this squad."

Van Aert: "I have been working towards this weekend. I am ready for it"

Van Aert is not exaggerating: this weekend's two defending champions are both teammates in the Visma-Lease a Bike team. Fellow countryman Tiesj Benoot won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in 2023, while Dutch Dylan van Baarle was the first to cross the line at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last year. And let's not forget European champion and Ghent-Wevelgem winner Christophe Laporte.

Plenty of competition

There will be plenty of Belgian competition for Van Aert. Lidl-Trek rider Jasper Stuyven won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad once before, in 2020. Jasper Philipsen, winner of four Tour de France stages in 2023, will represent Alpecin-Deceuninck this weekend. And Lotto-Dstny's Arnaud De Lie will be looking to improve on his second place in the Omloop last year.

Cycling fans will also be keen to see what fan favourite Julian Alaphilippe can do. The Frenchman has endured two difficult seasons following his world titles in 2020 and 2021. Entering the final year of his contract with Soudal-QuickStep, he will look to rediscover his form in 2024, starting this weekend.

All eyes on Kopecky

In the women's race, all eyes will be on defending champion Lotte Kopecky. The Belgian started an incredible 2023, culminating in her first world title on the road, by winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Women. There is no women's edition of the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne race.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne are just the start of another packed cycling season on Belgian soil. In March, the world's best riders will compete in classics such as the E3 Saxo Classic, Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. The season ends in April with Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where Remco Evenepoel will be aiming for his third consecutive victory.

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#FlandersNewsService | The 2023 edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. © BELGA PHOTO TOM GOYVAERTS

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