And so the warm weather (excluding Tour of the Med) precursors to the bike season proper have concluded.

Down Under, Qatar, Oman, Algarve, etc have all had their brief moments in the spotlight, Langkawi has kicked off with a win to Zab in the time trial (no surprises that Zab is nowhere near the Classics! Not a sketchy conditions type of rider is the great DZ.)

Hardman racing starts today!

Now we head to the heartland of the sport and the portion of the season where the hardmen have their moments to shine.

Today is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, aka Het Volk, and tomorrow is Kurne-Brussels-Kurne (KBK).

Het Volk starts and ends in Ghent, has kicker steep hills and tough pave (cobbled) sectors; KBK has more of the same, perhaps with a greater emphasis on pave, and less severe climbs.

I remember hearing two of the old timers (Whitey and Jules Dean) in our team talk about showing up together to the start of this weekend year after year (they both lived in the same part of Spain, so their teams would usually fly them to the race on the same flights even when they were on different teams).

It would inevitably be cold, but not cold enough for snow — just a bitter rain.

And inevitably one or both of them would crash at least once over the weekend of racing.

They were laughing about a particular year (their 10th consecutive or some ridiculous number) where neither of them crashed on either day, and how they were both a little freaked out by it.

Suffice to say this is a weekend for hardmen, and depending on the weather (I see it is 10degrees, wet and windy in Ghent today, and 10deg, partly cloudy in Brussels tomorrow — not awful) can be a weekend where less than 10% of the field finish the race.

The crowds in Belgium love it, the madmen of the peloton love it, everyone else dreads it, and I am hugely looking forward to seeing how things get rolling.

Read more from Toby at his blog, Tobblogganing.