BELGIUM'S Opening Weekend follows on just six days after the Oostmalle Sluitingsprijs ends the professional cyclocross season providing a seamless experience for the mad keen armchair fans sitting down in front of their televisions on a weekend afternoon.

Although it's still unsure when Mathieu van der Poel will return to racing, the good news is there will be four big showdowns between Wout van Aert and newly crowned 'cross World champion Tom Pidcock starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in two weeks time.


Photo: @corcoranphotos

Van Aert's stated focus is to win one of the sport's monuments - from Milan-San Remo, Flanders or Paris-Roubaix - while also defending his Amstel Gold Race title. After Roubaix his summer will be focused on winning the green jersey in the Tour de France.

"I will prepare for the classics with the Omloop and Paris-Nice," Van Aert told Wieler Flits. "I will try to have a peak period of form from San Remo through to Roubaix."

Van Aert is currently on a team training camp in Tenerife.

Van Aert's race programme

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (26 February)
Paris-Nice (6-13 March)
Milan-San Remo (19 March)
E3 Saxo Bank Classic (25 March)
Gent-Wevelgem (27 March)
Tour of Flanders (3 April)
Amstel Gold Race (10 April)
Paris-Roubaix (17 April)
Tour de France (1-24 July)

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Tom Pidcock has announced a very busy spring schedule which will take advantage of, and build on, the form that saw him dominate the World cyclocross championship on 30th January. He starts earliest - on the 16th February - with a five-day stage race in Portugal before meeting Van Aert on Belgium's opening weekend in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The day after Pidcock also races Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.


Photo: @dpmbrock

The Briton will also race Strade Bianche which Van Aert skips this year before they meet again in Milan-San Remo. The Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold are the two other Classics where they should face each other by which time Mathieu van der Poel may have been able to make a return.

Brabantse Pijl - which he won in 2021 - is also on Pidcock's programme. Ardennes Week is stretched over two weeks this season - after Paris-Roubaix moved from its usual date - and Pidcock tackles them all concluding with Liege-Bastogne-Liege on 24th April (why not come and watch Liege after our 'Classics homage' ride from Sheffield, England?: https://bit.ly/3H8NaJ0)

Pidcock's race programme

Volta ao Algarve (16-20 February)
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (26 February)
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (27 February)
Strade Bianche (5 March)
Milan-San Remo (19 March)
Dwars door Vlaanderen (30 March)
Tour of Flanders (3 April)
Amstel Gold Race (10 April)
Brabantse Pijl (13 April)
La Fl├Ęche Wallonne (20 April)
Liege-Bastogne-Liege (24 April)

MVDP back riding but is it training?

The good news is that Mathieu van der Poel is back riding after what is believed to have been nearly a month of rest. The Dutchman is currently (10th February) trying to make up for lost time training near Calp on the Spanish Costa Blanca.

"He is not training yet, but just riding." Adrie van der Poel told WielerRevue. "There is a big difference. He will only train when the injury is over and that is not yet the case. The classics will be here soon. I hope that he is there but if that doesn't happen, then it may be that he should skip the spring. First his back must be perfect again."

It's understood that Van der Poel will not finalise any races until "he completes a pain-free training block."

Strade Bianche - which he won last year - would appear to come too soon for Van der Poel who hopefully has the swelling on an intervertebral disc well and truly behind him soon. More realistic early race targets for the Dutchman would seem to be Milan-San Remo or Tour of Flanders followed by the Amstel Gold and Paris-Roubaix.

Certainly a Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold with all the Big Three 'crossers is a very exciting prospect come early April.

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