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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Here’s what Sagan, Pidcock and other cobbles contenders said at the start

VeloNews is on the ground at the 'opening weekend' – we caught up with some of the biggest stars on the Omloop startline Saturday.

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It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the classics are here.

The “opening weekend” double-header of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne kickstart cobblestone season Saturday. VeloNews is there and speaking to the riders that matter.

Here’s what some of the stars said on the startline of Omloop on Saturday:

Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies)

Peter Sagan is back at Omloop for the first time since 2017. How will the Slovak go in his first classic with TotalEnergies? A bout of COVID over winter complicates the question.

“I feel good. Everyone keeps asking me the same question but I feel good. In January I had COVID and I changed all my preparation because I was supposed to go to altitude but then I had to cancel it. That’s why I’m here, because I wanted to start racing earlier. I did my first race in France last week and now I’m here. It feels good here, the weather is here and it’s important to remember all the crucial places and sectors for all the important races we’re doing here in Belgium.”

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

Tom Pidcock enjoyed a breakout classics campaign last year but told VeloNews on Friday that he’s still a half-watt from his best. He will line up alongside fellow Brit Ethan Hayter and rising American ace Magnus Sheffield in the hopes of repeating his all-attacking ride at his Omloop debut last year.

“There will be headwind, and then crosswinds later on. I hope it’s not with a big group in the finale. I’m pretty satisfied with how I’m going. This is different though. Today will be a discovery.”

Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers)

American sensation Magnus Sheffield scored a breakout stage victory at the Rutal del Sol earlier this month. After impressing in the one-day races as a junior, the New York State resident has high hopes for his debut senior classics campaign,

“I’m really excited. I’ve been looking forward to this for a really long time. A lot of these roads feel pretty familiar from when I was a junior, although we’re racing them in slightly different directions and after a lot more kilometers.

“I wanted to start in these races and develop as a rider. That meant getting experience because these races aren’t just about having good legs but about having the years on these roads. Absolutely it was talked about, and I wanted to push for a good Classics campaign, especially Roubaix and that’s part of the lead-up until then.”

Stay tuned for a full story with Sheffield after the race.

Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-Citroën)

Oliver Naesen lines up alongside co-captain Greg Van Avermaet for both races this weekend. The Belgian told VeloNews how he tweaked his preparation over the winter to allow himself more rest. The perennial classics nearly-man is hoping it pays off.

“The legs are good but we’ll have see out on the road. Omloop is a tactical race. You can lose it on several sections. I’ll bank on the final four climbs. Molenberg used to be crucial section and a large group of 150 riders always arrived there. That climb is gone so the same group will head to cobbles of Haaghoek. I’m feeling so much better. I took a break that was the difference.”

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal)

Philippe Gilbert is pedaling into his final classics campaign at Omloop. The Belgian veteran rued the overnight loss of Tim Wellens due to illness but is hoping he can pull something special in his 16th start at the curtain-raising race.

“Too bad Tim isn’t here. The tactic is adapted because he was an important card. He was showing great form. I want to be there in the finale.”

Here’s the scene from the startline… (hey, we’re writers, not photographers): Image: Brecht Decaluwe