Next season’s Belgian Classic, Het Volk, will conclude with the same difficult, uphill finish the Tour de France used when it visited Ghent in July.

Gert Steegmans of Quick Step was supposed to be leading out his team-mate Tom Boonen as the peloton arrived on the deceptive drag of the Charles de Kerchovelaan.

But Boonen couldn’t get round before the line, giving Steegmans a memorable win on home soil.

And the big Belgian can count himself an early favourite for Het Volk on March 1 after the organisers announced the finish was returning to Ghent.

Traditionally, the Omloop Het Volk – named after the newspaper which created the race and still sponsors it today – started and finished in Ghent. But for the past 12 years the race has ended in nearby Lokeren.

That was until the town’s authorities asked the organisers to bring the race back to the city, so the 2008 edition will again loop out into the steep hills before returning to finish on the uphill drag just a stone’s throw from the Kuipke velodrome.

Eleven climbs, including Berendries, Tenbosse, the Eikenberg and Molenberg will feature on the 190-kilometre route. But there is one famous omission – for the first time in years the Oude Kwaremont is one of the difficulties facing the riders.

The defending champion is Filippo Pozzato of Italy.

KOPPENBERG TEST FOR FLANDERS

Meanwhile, the Tour of Flanders organisers have said that the Koppenberg is not definitely off the menu for their race for 2008.

Instead, a group of respected professionals – including recently-retired Peter Van Petegem and Serge Baguet of Quick Step – will ride the viciously-steep cobbled hill and give their verdict before the organisers make a final decision.

The Koppenberg is famous for being the climb where Danish rider Jesper Skibby slowed to a halt, fell and then had his bike driven over by the commissaire’s car in 1987.

After that incident the hill was dropped before being restored to the race after being resurfaced. However, by last year’s event the road surface had deteriorated again leading to calls for it to be struck off.

Again resurfaced, the final verdict will be influenced by some real experts.

PICTURE: Steegmans pips Boonen – against team orders – on the Kerchovelaan in Ghent. It won’t be short-sleeve weather for Het Volk in early March.