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Wiggle Honda has D’hoore and Longo Borghini cards to play in the Omloop

Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling will line up at the start of Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent, Belgium, with two big cards to play in the form of Belgian Champion Jolien D’hoore and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini. The 120km race forms part of the Flemish “Openingsweekend,” which sets the Northern Classics season in motion.

Ghent local D’hoore rode last week’s UCI Track World Championships, having competed in the Tour of Qatar earlier in February, but is reasonably confident about her form as she heads into her home race.

“I really don’t know how my legs will be because I haven’t ridden on the road for more than two hours in the last two weeks,” she admitted. “I’m going to see how I feel after the track, and then I’ll see for Saturday.”

As the beginning of the Belgian season, the Omloop is a big day for the city of Ghent, and D’hoore’s red, yellow and black driekleur jersey will take centre stage. Rather than feeling the pressure that this could bring, however, the 24-year-old feels that the weight of her national flag will spur her on even more.

“It’s a great motivation for me to ride in the Belgian Champion’s jersey, and also I know the course very well,” D’hoore said. “So that’s also an advantage, even if the form is a bit less on the road. But if you still know the course it can help you, and it can bring you far in the race I guess.”

Having ridden in Qatar with several of those set to line up on Saturday, and having spent a week training in Ghent with the entire team, D’hoore feels confident that those around her will be able to give her the support that she needs.

“Each of us is a very good rider and we’re all classy riders,” she said. “I put my trust in them, and I can work for them. Like Elisa: she has proved that she is very good in this kind of work – in these Belgian races – so I’m looking forward to it.”

Longo Borghini burst onto the international cycling scene as a 19-year-old, in 2011, with fifth place in the Omloop, under the freezing rain conditions that she has come to thrive in. Despite hailing from Northern Italy, the now 23-year-old is as at-home on the cobblestones as any Belgian, and can hardly wait for her European season to begin.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she smiled. “Because I think that now it’s time to race, and to start the European season. It’s time to break the ice, and to go to fight.

“As I said, it’s the first race, so I just want to see what my level is, and how are the others. There are some nice races coming up further in the season, so I just want to see how I am, and how is my shape. Of course I love racing here, and I love the crowds that are on the street, and I love the parcours. I just want to enjoy the race.

“I think we are an extremely strong team, and I think we can play a lot of cards,” she added. “Of course, maybe I’m strong, but around me there are other strong girls, so we can play as a team.”

Alongside D’hoore and Longo Borghini will be Australian Chloe Hosking, who already has victory in the Bay Crits series and second place overall in Qatar to her name. Despite her early season form, however, Hosking is looking to play a supporting role to her two teammates on the cobblestones tomorrow.

“I definitely feel really good, and everything’s been spot on since Qatar,” Hosking said. “Obviously Qatar didn’t go so badly, but for sure I feel that there’s still room to improve. I feel like probably in the next three weeks is where the results will come, so Saturday is for Jolien and Elisa. I think those are really our two big girls, and I’ll be there to support them.

“For me the biggest challenge is getting over the Côte de Trieu, and if I’m there with those girls I can be a really big asset to the team. I’d love to see Wiggle on the podium, if not on the top step; it doesn’t matter who it is.”

Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s team will also include super-domestiques Emilia Fahlin, Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Japanese Champion Mayuko Hagiwara. British Criterium Champion will get her first European start for the team, having already raced the Australian criterium season in the black and orange jersey, while – having impressed directeur sportif Egon van Kessel during Wednesday’s course reconnaissance – 19-year-old Anna Christian will race in the colours for the first time.

“I didn’t really expect to be doing it, if I’m honest,” Christian admitted. “I rode the course [on Wednesday] and didn’t feel all that strong on the cobbles, but if I can go there and do a job – maybe in the first 50km or so – then I’m happy to do that.

“It’s probably the biggest race I could have started with!” she laughed. “But then it’s probably good to start big, because then you have nothing else to worry about. Once I’ve done that then I’ll know that the rest isn’t going to be as hard!”

Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling Team for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (28th February)
Anna Christian (Great Britain)
Audrey Cordon-Ragot (France)
Jolien D’hoore (Belgium)
Emilia Fahlin (Sweden)
Mayuko Hagiwara (Japan)
Chloe Hosking (Australia)
Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)
Eileen Roe (Great Britain)


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