It many respects it may seem cruel to start the cobbled season so early when the area is cold, wet and grim. It truly is the strongest that win. Ironically these early winners do not always flourish when the big days in April (but many have), but it is always a good indication of where everybody is at. Various Teams have been out on the course today, checking out the roads to see what this year's harsh weather has done to the surface. Cervelo today have been testing some wheels and playing with tyre pressures as they are now on the 320tpi version of the Pave tyre.
According to http://www.hln.be/ Boonen is the favourite, followed by Boasson Hagen and Gilbert. I think that's a pretty good bet and all three will have enough fire power to deliver something at the end of the gruelling race. Maybe though there could be a surprise and like last year when Thor Hushovd won, we may have another blossoming Classics star take the first cobbled win of the season. Outsiders would have to be Haussler, Hammond and Flecha.
Het Volk (as it was) has been traditionally a Belgian affair. The first none Belgain to win it was a one Seamus Elliot in 1959 when the race was contested over 209km and run out at a mind boggling speed of 40.965 kph. The 70's where very unusual in that it was won by four riders twice (Verbeeck, Merckx, Bruyere and Maertens) and only broken up by Peeters and de Vlaeminck.
The next none Benelux winner was Andreas Kappes in 1991, so its a pretty small list of names that go onto the list of people who have won it and are not from the area. Since then the only other none Belgian winners have been Ballerini (1995), Bartoli (2001), Pozzato (2007) and Hushovd (2009). If Gilbert wins he will enter the exclusive club of three time winners which is occupied by Joseph Bruyere, Ernest Sterckx and Peter van Petegem.