BRUSSELS (AFP) — World champion Philippe Gilbert chases his first victory of the season as a strong field gets set to begin the five-stage Tour of Belgium on Wednesday.
The BMC Racing team leader pulled out of last week’s Amgen Tour of California to attend the birth of his second child but will line up for his home race in an optimistic mood, with the final stage suited to his climbing skills over the route used for the one day Liège–Bastogne–Liège classic.
“I hope to do something special on this stage which passes through my hometown. I know the roads by heart and the course is perfectly suited for me,” said the 30-year-old, who is still shaking off jet lag after his trip back from the American west coast.
The riders will cover the La Redoute climb three times on the final day, where Gilbert won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2011 after finishing third on the same roads one year earlier.
Should Gilbert falter, BMC can also count on his compatriot Greg van Avermaet to challenge for the overall title, while former world champion Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) of Switzerland is always a threat. Germany’s Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) are also tipped for the podium.
Sprint finishes are also likely to feature Belgium’s best known racer Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma), who will take on Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in what should be some gripping battles among the peloton’s speedsters.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is arguably the best hope among the French contingent, although the former yellow jersey holder is likely to use the race as preparation for Tour de France after fracturing his collarbone in mid-April and only returning to action last week.