Van Keirsbulck, who rode with Quick-Step Floors for six years before moving to Wanty last year, overpowered Alex Kirsch (WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect) in a two-up sprint to win the 2017 race, while Quick-Step’s Iljo Keisse led a small group home 11 seconds later. It was an act of revenge of sorts for the 27-year-old Belgian after Quick-Step seemingly grew tired of waiting for him to deliver on his considerable potential and turned him loose after the 216 season.
Van Keirsbulck will have another opportunity on Tuesday, when he’ll line up at the head of the race that will feature Quick-Step’s Phlippe Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra.
“It is always fun to start with number 1,” Van Keirsbulck said. “The circumstances are different than last year. It will not be too bad, just very cold. I will dress warmly to warm up my muscles for the final. Then we will see who is still present.”
Although the course features four short-but-steep climbs in the beginning, the real action will take place on the four laps of the 25km closing circuit, which includes four cobblestone sections.
“The course is tiring, but the cobblestones here suit me,” Van Keirsbulck said. “Quick-Step seems well armed, and when Gilbert is here he wants to win the opening race in Wallonia.”
Van Keirsbulck had an uneven outing during the “opening weekend” at Omloop Hty Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, failing to finish Omloop and then finishing 34th in the Kuurne bunch sprint.
“After the Omloop, I asked myself questions because I never felt good,” he said. “It was a little panic. But yesterday in Kuurne I have reassured myself. This was a big difference in terms of feeling. I found strength in the legs and still had reserves in the final. I had to prepare the sprint for Timothy [Dupont], but we lost each other in the final kilometers. “
Aside from the pacrours and the Quick-Step juggernaut, Van Keirsbulck and the rest will also need to overcome the day’s weather, which is forecast for cloudy skies and temperatures below zero Celsius. Wanty-Groupe Gobert team director Hilaire Van der Schueren said he expects a “special” race in the weather conditions.
“In the final, victims will fall because it is even colder than last year,” Van der Schueren said. “We will have to dose our efforts just like last year. In the first part of the race we will let Quick-Step and Lotto control the race. We only have to make sure that we do not let a group leave with them and without our riders.
“Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Frederik Backaert will be our two strong men to ride the final, especially because they can cope with the cold. We keep Timothy Dupont as a wildcard for the sprint, although I’m afraid it will not be a sprint here. But it is always interesting to have Timothy, especially for the men who are at the head of the race.”
Wanty-Groupe Gobert for Le Samyn: Frederik Backaert, Tom Devriendt, Timothy Dupont, Mark McNally, Boris Vallée, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Kevin Van Melsenof the race. “