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This weekend is opening weekend in Belgium! The AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step elite team lines up for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad while the U23 team makes their season debut on Sunday in Craywinckelhof Omloop van het Hageland.

Race preview Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Line-up: Maaike Boogaard (NED), Julia Borgström (SWE), Marthe Goossens(BEL), Romy Kasper (GER), Ilse Pluimers (NED), Nicole Steigenga (NED).

These classics are the start of a very busy spring season on Belgian, French and Dutch roads leading all the way to the last of this series at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on 23 April. After the great perfomances of the team in Spain and the stellar results by Ally Wollaston and Anya Louw in Tour Down Under and the national championships, everyone is eager for more.

“The start of the Classics season is always special, even though I have done this for so many years now,” says Romy Kasper. “We have all closely followed the races in Spain and Down Under and we all feel inspired to keep that good vibe going.”

The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is promoted to World Tour level meaning all the top teams line up for the 132 kilometers between Ghent and Ninove. It includes famous hills like the Molenberg, Berendries, Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg and well-known cobbles like Haaghoek.

“The race is always nervous from the start and this year maybe even more so because it’s now World Tour,” says Romy. “The most important points come after Oudenaarde when there is one cobbled sector after the other. The final usually starts at the Muur.

Even though we had these great results as a team already we don’t want to race with too much pressure in these opening races. We go out there to have fun, execute the plan Jolien and Servais make and then we can’t go wrong. We just hope to do the best race possible as a team on both Saturday and Tuesday and see what the result will be.”

Race preview Craywinckelhof Omloop van het Hageland

Line-up: Maureen Arens (NED), Febe Jooris (BEL), Senne Knaven (BEL), Jade Linthoudt (BEL), Yuli van der Molen (NED), Eline van Rooijen (NED).

After completing their training camp around Calpe in Spain and racing the Vuelta CV Feminas on 5 February, the AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step U23 team races in Belgium at the Craywinckelhof Omloop van het Hageland, a 123,9-kilometer-long race with start in Aarschot and finish in Tielt-Winge.

“We have two teams at the same UCI level so we have to divide the races we get to do,” says sports and technical manager Servais Knaven. “Sadly, we can’t mix our riders like World Tour teams can with their development teams so we look at our program closely. It’s a logical decision to have our development team in this race. It’s by no means a small race. There are many big teams and strong riders and everyone is super motivated at the start of the year but it’s a race where we can be competitive. Eline is our most experienced rider here and can really go for a good result.”

The AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step U23 development team is a young team with many riders who come straight out of juniors or are in their second year in the elite category. Development is key.

“Craywinckelhof Omloop van het Hageland is a good race to start for them. I don’t know yet what to expect but for us it’s important to give these young riders many different race experiences. We want them to try their best, help each other and ride as a team. The development aspect is very important to us. So, we don’t only brief them before a race but also debrief extensively to really have a learning experience every race,” Servais concludes.