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World champion Peter Sagan heads to Belgium Saturday for the European debut of his rainbow jersey, won in Richmond, Virginia last September, as he kicks off classics season with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, February 27, and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, February 28.
Sagan will captain the Tinkoff squad at Saturday’s Omloop, a 201-kilometer race that some consider to be a mini-Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). On Sunday, he’ll race Kuurne, which is usually more favorable for sprinters — Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish won last year’s edition.
“I am curious to see how my first two starts in Europe will be,” Sagan said. “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.”
The Slovak’s experience in these season-openers is limited — he’s started each race only once, abandoning Kuurne and finishing 66th in Omloop, both in 2010.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Sagan has yet to win his first race in the rainbow jersey, coming close in stage 2 of San Luis with a second-place result, but having finished in the top five at Flanders on three occasions, it’s likely he’ll be a factor at Omloop.
Tinkoff roster for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
Daniele Bennati (I)
Adam Blythe (GB)
Manuele Boaro (I)
Maciej Bodnar (Pol)
Oscar Gatto (I)
Jay McCarthy (Aus)
Peter Sagan (Slo)
Nikolay Trusov (Rus)