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  Now in its 9th edition Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the start of the European season. Orica-AIS has won the last two editions with Loes Gunnewijk and Tiffany Cromwell. Defending Champion Tiffany Cromwell now with Specialized-lululemon returns to defend her title. Three other former winners Loes Gunnewijk (2012), Emma Johansson 2010 and 2011) and Kirsten Wild (2008) will also be on the start line.

Last year as was the case with many of the early classics weather played a major factor. Eventual winner Cromwell escaped with Megan Guarnier with Cromwell distancing Guarnier in the closing kilometre to win solo. Emma Johansson proved fastest from the bunch to take the final spot on the podium.

The Route

The first major climb is the Nokereberg coming at the 28km mark, before heading on to Tiegemberg. From here riders face the narrow Côte de Trieu with sections of over 10% From here comes the Paterberg, Kortekeer, Ladeuze and Wolvenberg climbs all in quick succession. The final major climb of the day is the Molenberg but riders don't face any respite after that.

The final 30km includes the Paddestraat, Lippenhovestraat and Lange Munte cobbled sections. The finish comes in the redesigned Sint Pietersplein, Ghent.

While held on the same day as the men's race it covers a different route of 130km but still attracts large crowds especially on the climbs.

The Contenders

Tiffany Cromwell

Took arguably the biggest win of her career here last year and returns hoping to be the 3rd rider to win more than once. Made the switch to Specialized-lululemon during the off-season and will be hoping to get off to a strong start. A strong climber who packs a fast finish but her best chance will be a solo move or with a small group.

Emma Johansson

The world number 1 is the only rider to have won back to back and her Orica-AIS squad has won the past two years and will look to continue. Johansson is arguably the most consistent rider in the peloton. Normally finishing in the top 10 and more often than not on the podium. With the inclusion of more cobbled sections the race is even more suited to her. Capable of winning solo or from a small or large group.

Ellen van Dijk

The World Time Trial Champion always performs well in the classics. Had 8 top 10 finishes last year including the win at Le Samyn des Dames. Finished 6th here last year but was 2nd behind Loes Gunnewijk in a two rider break in 2012. A strong finisher but a solo move or a sprint from a small group is her best option as she lacks the finishing speed of others.

Chloe Hosking

One of the pelotons top sprinters and generally performs well in the early season classics. Backed by the strong Hitec squad that includes friend and leadout specialist Lauren Kitchen as well as Ashleigh Moolman and Elisa Longo Borghini. Had a strong Australian summer and comes in with good form after finishing 3rd at the Tour of Qatar.

Loes Gunnewijk

The Orica-AIS road captain and one of the best cobbled classics riders in the business. Has finished in the top 10 the past three years including her win in 2012. Likely to be riding in support of Emma Johansson but if she finds herself in the right postion she will be very hard to beat.

Lizzie Armitstead

After winning the silver medal at the London Olympics Armitstead had a hard 2013 with just one victory. Looked strong at the Tour of Qatar but after missing the break on stage 2 dropped out of contention for the overall. Will be very dangerous in a bunch finish but with Ellen van Dijk on the team they have other cards to play.

Annemiek van Vleuten

The last person to win the World Cup who wasn't named Marianne Vos. Now on Rabo she often finds herself riding in support of Vos but with Vos absent an opportunity presents itself. Has finished in the top 10 multiple times including just missing the podium in 4th last year.

Anna van der Breggen

After her Sengers team folded she moved across to Rabo. A strong all rounder but the removal of a climb makes it harder for her. A strong classics rider but is more suited to hillier races. Finished 8th last year.

Chantal Blaak

An excellent classics rider who spent five years at the hugely successful AA Drink squad. Now finds herself at Specialized-lululemon and despite her talent with last years winner on the team is likely to find herself playing a support role for Cromwell. But like others in the right position is a big danger for the win.

Other names to watch: Trixi Worrack, Megan Guarnier, Gracie Elvin, Audrey Cordon, Elisa Longo Borghini, Emily Collins, Noemi Cantele, Sofie de Vuyst, Amy Pieters and Lucy Martin.

Based on provisional start list.
 © 2014