Not so this year, however, as fan and peloton favorite Johan Museeuw (Mapei) won solo in dry weather, beating two break away companions by nearly one minute.
The win signaled that Museeuw is almost fully recovered from a life-threatening injury he suffered in the 1998 Paris-Roubaix, a race that Het Volk resembles with its 17 infamous sections of pave cobblestones.
Museeuw twice has won cyclings coveted World Cup trophy, as well as the World Championships in 1996, but last year he managed only two minor victories. To take Het Volk a must-win for any Belgian bike racer is another notch in Museeuws long list of wins as his career hits its twilight years.
Museeuw, 34, a soft-spoken man who hails from the heartland of the cycling world, beat several of his countrymen in a race (at category 1.1, the highest ranked race in professional cycling), that he had not won in 11 previous starts.
To win the 55th running of the 204K Het Volk, Museeuw beat out Peter van Petegem, who had won the past two years; brash young sensation Frank Vandenbrouke, ready to pick up his winning ways left off from last year; and the venerable Andre Tchmil, World Cup champion last year and the oldest member of the peloton at 37.
As the race neared its finish in Lokeren, Belgium, the favorites were in a group of 35 at the front, gearing up for the final selection.
As he often does, Museeuw started the fireworks with his explosive attack at kilometer 179, pulling Servais Knaven (Farm Frites), Stefan Wesemann (Telekom) and Franco Ballerini (Lampre) along in the decisive move.
Caught behind, Tchmil and Vandenbrouke struggled in vain to pull the group back, but with under 15K to go to the finish and perhaps the wiliest rider of all in the break, there was no chance for those left off the Museeuw express.
Once he had made his final selection, Museeuw proceeded to the knockout blow, dropping his three breakaway partners on the second to last stretch of cobbles named, appropriately enough, the Belgian Blocks. With 2K to go and a 35 second lead, it was clear that Museeuw had the race in the bag.
Wesemann pipped Knaven and Ballerini in the three-up sprint for second place, a full 52 seconds in arrears of Museeuw.
Museeuw was clearly emotional at the finish: You can't imagine how happy I am. All of last year I was racing with virtually one leg, the left one had half the muscle of the good leg. All winter I've worked incredibly hard to equal out the muscle mass in both legs, this victory proves that I'm back."
Museeuw took a devastating fall in a wet and wild 1998 Paris Roubaix that shattered his kneecap; compounding the injury, he developed gangrene and at one point was close to death.
In 1999 he scored only two minor victories, although he did manage a ninth place in his return to the cobbles of Paris Roubaix.
With Museeuw back at full strength, the so-called hard men of the peloton one-day stars Vandenbrouke, Tchmil and van Petegem now have another of their countrymans faces to watch in the big spring classics to come in the next two months.
Omloop Het Volk, Feb. 26, 2000
1. Johan Museeuw (Bel)
2. Steffen Wesemann (Ger) 0.52 back
3. Servais Knaven (Ned) S.T.
4. Franco Ballerini (Ita) S.T.
5. Romans Vainsteins (Lat) 1.52
Tour of Valencia, Feb. 22 - 26
1999 Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (US Postal Service) dropped out of the short Spanish stage race prior to the start of stage three. He was the second big name to leave early, following Italian Marco Pantani (Mercetone Uno), who quit a day earlier.
USPS director sportif Johan Bruyneel attributed Armstrongs did-not-start to physical problems, not an abnormal occurrence this time of year for a big-name rider focusing on the Tour.
Armstrongs teammate George Hincapie took a third place sprint in stage three, won by 1999 world champion Oscar Freire. Hincapie is much closer to form than Armstrong, and will be a heavy favorite in the early World Cup races, starting with the Milan-San Remo on March 18, followed by "Hell of the North," Paris-Roubaix, which he took fourth in last year.
Former world champion Abraham Olano (Once) won the overall general classification after taking the final 19.8K time trial in the streets of Valencia, Spain.
57th Vuelta Comunidad Valenciana
Final general classification:
1 Abraham Olano (Spa) 2 Juan Carlos Dominguez (Spa) 0.21 back
3 Jose Alberto Martinez (Spa) 0.47
4 Antonio Tauler (Spa) 0.50
5 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 1.12