A Belgium team might have been winning nearly everything this spring, but not Belgian riders, and that’s causing some concern. A worried headline in Het Laatste Nieuws pointed out that none of the 12 one-day races so far this spring, from Classics opener Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, has been won by Belgians, something that hasn’t happened since the Second World War.
A ‘home’ victory at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday would see all that forgotten in the blink of an eye, but Belgium’s hopes have taken further blows as two of its leading riders, Philippe Gilbert and Oliver Naesen, have come down with illness.
Both are set to line up in Antwerp to start De Ronde on Sunday morning but their chances of standing on the podium in Oudenaarde six hours later might be diminished.
Gilbert, who won Flanders in 2017, abandoned Dwars door Vlaanderen with just under 50 kilometres remaining, and it was revealed after the race that he was suffering stomach problems.
“He already felt tired last night and has a cold sore on his lip,” Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere told the Belgian newspapers. “He felt himself getting worse during the race.
“It’s not good timing, but we shouldn’t panic. The main thing is to wait and see how he wakes up after a night’s sleep, and see what Thursday, Friday and Saturday will bring.”
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