Sports Listings: Cycling: The Het Volk

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The Independent Online
FOR followers of cycling, the opening classic races of the season are always a good indication of which riders are in form for the World Cup races, beginning in March.

The Het Volk, named after its Belgian newspaper sponsor, is the opening spring classic on 26 February. Starting and finishing in Ghent, the 208km race has eight climbs, five of which are on the famed and infamous cobbled roads. The bunched sprint finish is always a thrilling sight.

The Paris to Nice from 6 to 13 March is the first classic stage race of the season and this year the format of the Race to the Sun has been changed to provide a more open affair. Gone are the team time trial and prologue in favour of a long first stage from Paris to Orleans. The following four stages bring the race to the Alps outside Grenoble. The sixth stage finishes in Marseille, ready for the Grand Duc finish on Saturday above the Riviera resort of Mandelieu. The final day sees a run to Nice and a time trial on the Col d'Eze.

Sporting Tours, of Otley, West Yorkshire, specialises in cycling trips. The operator's three-night tour to Ghent by coach for the Het Volk also includes the Kurne-Brussels-Kurne race the following day and costs pounds 119 per person. If there is sufficient interest, Sporting Tours will run a coach trip to the last three days of the Paris-Nice, staying over for the Milan to San Remo, the first World Cup race, on 19 March. The eight-night tour, based in Cannes, will cost pounds 350.

Het Volk, 26 February (start and finish in Ghent, Bel); Paris to Nice, 6-13 March (6: Fontenay-sous-Bois to Orleans, 189km; 7: Gien to Nevers, 162km; 8: Nevers to Clermont Ferrand, 204km; 9: Clermont Ferrand to Saint-Etienne, 156m; 10: Saint-Etienne to Vaujany, 198km; 11: Beaumes de Venise to Marseille, 200km; 12: Toulon to Mandelieu la Napoule, 199km; 13: morning: Mandelieu to Nice, 92km, afternoon: Nice to Col d'Eze, 12.5km time trial).

Sporting Tours, 21 Manor Gardens, Pool-in-Wharfedale, Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 1NB (Tel: 0532-843617; fax 0532-843617).

Belgian Tourist Office, 29 Princes Street, London W1R 7RG (Tel: 071-629 0230).

French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL (Tel: 071- 499 6911 - recorded information only).