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"These races in Belgium are set to kick off the final phases of my preparation for the spring monuments, which, yet again, will be a great challenge to me. Both races are quite long and difficult."

Photo: Tinkoff-Saxo

ADAM BLYTHE

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DANIELE BENNATI

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JAY MCCARTHY

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KUURNE-BRUXELLES-KUURNE

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MACIEJ BODNAR

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MANUEL BOARO

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NIKOLAI TRUSSOV

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OMLOOP HET NIEUWSBLAD

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OSCAR GATTO

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PETER SAGAN

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24.02.2016 @ 15:29 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

World champion Peter Sagan will kick-start his European season this weekend with the two opening races of the Belgian cycling calendar. Hard and challenging, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, will provide the prefect ground for a prelude to the revered Classics.

With the famous cobblestone races considered a key point during the season for Tinkoff and Peter Sagan, it will be important to get going on a positive note ahead the next intense weeks of racing.

Tinkoff will field a squad of strong riders that have proved their early-season form with solid performances and three stage victories in January and February. Flanking Sagan will be Maciej Bodnar, Daniele Bennati, Oscar Gatto, Jay McCarthy, Manuele Boaro, Nikolay Trusov and Adam Blythe.

"Peter Sagan will, obviously, be our leader," commented Sport Director Lars Michaelsen. "However, he comes from a high-altitude camp and his last race was a month ago in Argentina, so we will need to keep him fresh and safe. I feel convinced that the rest of the squad will rise to the challenge and work hard to support him."

For Peter Sagan, these two races will be an indication of his current form. "I am curious to see how my first two starts in Europe will be. The race in San Luis was held a month ago, so it has been a long time. I prepared diligently, I spent a lot of time at the training camp in Sierra Nevada and I know I'm doing well. I am interested in seeing how strong my opponents are."

"These races in Belgium are set to kick off the final phases of my preparation for the spring monuments, which, yet again, will be a great challenge to me. Both races are quite long and difficult and they nearly always indicate who will succeed in the spring part of the season. It will be the first test and I expect a sharp confrontation with the best riders," concluded Sagan.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Saturday, February 27th)
For the Belgian opening weekend, Tinkoff will face on Saturday at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the fantastic classic style of racing that marks the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The 201km-long race starts in Ghent, takes the riders through the Flemish Ardennes with lots of ascents and flat cobbled sections and finishes again in Ghent.

According to Lars Michaelsen, "this will be similar to a rehearsal for the team's 2016 classic season. We will do a lot of the known climbs in Ronde van Vlaanderen and since this is a race where all the Belgian riders finally are able to go racing on home soil, the start is normally extremely fast."

Thirteen climbs, including the famous "Kapelmuur van Gerardsbergen" 85km into the parcours, and no less than ten cobblestone sections will test the peloton as it rides under usually cold and wintry conditions.

"A breakaway is likely to be formed within the first 20 km, so we will have to stay alert," stated Michaelsen on the race. "We will have to be very careful and never let our guard down, as all of the race's climbs, such as the Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Wolvenberg, Leberg or the Boembekeberg, are crucial. The battle will be intense and there will not be any easy section."

Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (Sunday, February 28th)
Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne has always been a nice race and many big names have stepped on its podium over the years. With a similar length to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 200km, the Sunday race features less climbs but is by no means a stroll in the park. Just like every other one-day classic in Belgium, racing has always been very hard.

The race starts in Kuurne, heads towards Brussels and 25km before the Belgian capital it turns around. On the way back, ten hills are climbed, including the famous "Oude Kwaremont", before finishing in Kuurne, after a 15.3km loop that is circled twice.

According to Lars Michaelsen, "a breakaway often forms in the beginning of the race and just like Saturday, we will have to stay alert. The first categorized climb is 30km after the start, followed by quite a long distance until the riders face the other ten climbs. Again, all of them will be important in terms of tactics and a hard, fast-paced battle is a given for the final two hours of the race."

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