Cobbles, hills and dirt roads – all these should make up for a very exciting race on Friday.
Triumphant last Sunday in RideLondon Classic – which from next year will step up to the World Tour – Tom Boonen will lead Etixx – Quick-Step at Dwars door het Hageland, the race many have compared to the already famous Strade Bianche, although it's more a mix between the Italian event and the Belgian Spring Classics. Hageland is 198-km long and features 11 short climbs, some of which are cobbled, pavé sections and several gravel roads, five of these coming inside the last 20 kilometers, before the short uphill finish in the Diest Citadel.
Boonen will be joined at the start in Aarschot by Nikolas Maes, Davide Martinelli, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, Julien Vermote and Lukasz Wisniowski, but also by stagiaire Ivan Cortina, who's coming from the Klein Constantia affiliate team and is looking forward to this race.
"I am very grateful for this opportunity I got from Etixx – Quick-Step. Racing in the same team with Tom and Niki is an important landmark in my career and I'm prepared to learn from them. When I was a child, I used to take my bike out for a ride in the afternoon and go full gas, pretending I'm a pro, after watching them in a race on TV. These are memories of which I'm very fond of and I hope to add another nice one to the scrapbook by doing a good race on Friday, even though I know it will be tough and nervous out there", said Cortina, who's made a promising name for himself while riding in the colors of Klein Constantia.
Just 20-years-old, the Spaniard showed his flair for the cobbles earlier this season, when he became the only U23 rider to conclude Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix in the top 10: "My biggest goals were the two cobbled classics and the Tour de Bretagne. In Flanders I finished eight, behind the breakaway, after attacking in the closing kilometer. Then, in Bretagne, I couldn't start the last stage, because I was sick. Fortunately, things were different in Roubaix, where I felt really good and attacked two times, once on Carrrefour de l'Arbre and once with four kilometers to go. It was difficult to make up ground on the nine escapees, but coming 10th still was a nice result. Overall, I'm happy with my year so far."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele