Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling is ready to begin its European season on Saturday with the traditional Belgian “Openingsweekend” race of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The 123.8km race, which is - like many other Belgian Classics - run alongside the equivalent men’s event, takes in many of the legendary cobbles and hills of Flanders. The black and orange team will line up at the start in Ghent with two previous winners, in 2016 recruits Emma Johansson and Amy Pieters, along with 2015 Tour of Flanders winner Elisa Longo Borghini.
“Obviously I just love the Spring Classics. It’s close to my home in Belgium,” said Johansson, who is a cycling ambassador for the Flanders Region. “I’ve won Het Nieuwsblad two times before [in 2010 and 2011] so it’s obviously a race that suits me, and I have a really strong team.
“I think that everyone is very motivated; the whole team has been having a good winter - good preparations - and it’s good that we have been able to get together a bit,” the Swedish Champion continued. “We got to do Qatar together, and that was a good start for us, and I think everybody is just really motivated to get the European Classic season started.
“Classics. Cobbles. Strong team. It’s going to be good!” Johansson laughed.
Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling’s new Dutch rider Pieters was the rider to deny Johansson a third victory, when she won the race herself in 2014. The 24-year-old is keen to show off the good form she displayed in the recent Tour of Qatar, and to make her European debut in the team’s colours.
“I really like this race - Het Nieuwsblad - because I like the cobbles, and of course I won it two years ago,” Pieters said. “I think the team is ready for Saturday.
“I think I had a good winter. Everything went to plan; I had good training, and everything was good,” she added. “Qatar was also a good race with the team, and I’m really looking forward to racing with the team on Saturday.
“It’s time. The winter was long enough!”
Tour of Flanders champion Longo Borghini first grabbed international attention in 2011, as she finished fifth behind Johansson as a 19-year-old in her very first elite race over the cobbles and hills of Belgium. Although the Italian has been suffering from illness in recent weeks, she is keen to get her Classics season on the road.
“I feel excited to be racing in Europe, and for Het Nieuwsblad,” she said. “It’s a race that I really like. My form is not the best, because I’ve been sick for more or less a month, and I’m getting better only now. So I hope to be good for the team there.”
Completing Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s team for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will be former two-time road World Champion Giorgia Bronzini, Japanese Champion Mayuko Hagiwara and Australian sprinter Chloe Hosking, who took the final stage of the Tour of Qatar so impressively this month.
Completing an “Openingsweekend” for the women will be the Omloop van het Hageland, in Tielt-Winge, to the east of Brussels, which has been brought forward slightly from its previous, early-March date. Johansson, Longo Borghini, Bronzini and Hosking will once again take the start for Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling, while Pieters and Hagiwara will make way for French time trial Champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot and two-time World Junior Champion Lucy Garner, who is also set to make her European debut in the black and orange jersey.
Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling team for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Giorgia Bronzini (Italy), Mayuko Hagiwara (Japan), Chloe Hosking (Australia), Emma Johansson (Sweden),Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Amy Pieters (Netherlands)
Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling team for the Omloop van het Hageland
Giorgia Bronzini (Italy), Audrey Cordon-Ragot (France), Lucy Garner (Great Britain), Chloe Hosking(Australia), Emma Johansson (Sweden), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)
Photo Credit: ©QCF/Paumer/Kåre Dehlie Thorstad
photo Cheltenham jockey club
photo Cheltenham Racecourse