Rumours circulating through the peloton that Tom Boonen will miss Saturday?s Het Volk have been scotched by Quick Step?s PR machine.

The Belgian has been included in the provisional eight-man team for the opening cobbled Classic of the season but some believe he will skip it following the long journey back from the Tour of California.

Boonen won a stage there and took a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Brussels today (Monday), leaving just four days to recover before the tough race in the Flemish hills.

Paolo Bettini and Kevin Hulsmans also rode in California and are on the provisional Het Volk start list ? but the rumour is that Quick Step will assess the condition of Boonen and Bettini before asking them to race Het Volk.

Quick Step have confirmed neither Boonen nor Bettini will take part in the team?s traditional training ride on part of the Het Volk parcours on Wednesday, but that they will give a press conference in Kortrijk on Friday afternoon.

And the team is insisting ? publicly at least ? that Boonen will start in Ghent on Saturday morning. But the question is: will jet lag take its toll on the riders?

Even with flat-bed first-class accommodation, the effects of flying from the west coast of America to Europe can be gruelling and jet-lag is at its worst.

However, if Boonen or Bettini are tempted to grumble, Quick Step?s bosses need only point out the example set by Stuart O?Grady last year.

The CSC man finished fifth overall in the Tour of California, then made the race-winning break at Het Volk and finally took fifth, behind winner Filippo Pozzato.

A BIG DILEMMA

The proximity of the Tour of California and Het Volk, while not actually clashing, has presented some teams with a dilemma.

Last year Quick Step did not take Boonen to the States but this time the desire of the team?s American bike supplier, Specialized, meant they did press their chief asset into action there.

And it paid off because he won a stage.

However, the Belgian press and public will demand a competitive Boonen in their prestigious season-opener. Although Boonen?s main objectives come later in the spring, at Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the passionate Flandrians are acutely aware that he has never won the Omloop Het Volk.

Quick Step will be safe in the knowledge they have two extremely strong alternative leaders for Het Volk.

Last week Stijn Devolder won the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal, although he is suffering the effects of a crash on the final stage. And Gert Steegmans will take heart from the fact that the finish of Het Volk has moved from Lokeren to Ghent.

Saturday?s race finishes on Charles De Kerchovelaan, near the famous velodrome, on the uphill road where the Ghent stage of the Tour de France finished last summer.

The winner that day? Gert Steegmans.

So Quick Step don?t need Boonen on top form, but the fans will be out in force to see him and the sense of disappointment if he doesn?t show ? or even if he?s below par ? will be tangible.

FROM CALIFORNIA TO GHENT

Riders who took part in the Tour of California who are on the provisional start list for Het Volk just five days after Monday?s 5,500-mile journey.

Astana ? Vladimir Gusev, Sergei Ivanov, Aaron Kemps

Bouygues Telecom ? Vincent Jerome, Alexandre Pichot

Quick Step ? Tom Boonen, Paolo Bettini, Kevin Hulsmans

Crédit Agricole ? Mark Renshaw

Rabobank ? Mathew Hayman

CSC ? Fabian Cancellara

Slipstream ? Stephen Cozza, Tyler Farrar

IT CAN BE DONE

Fifth in the Tour of California, fifth at Het Volk, he then went on to win Paris-Roubaix. Perhaps it?s not surprising that the flight from LA didn?t faze the Australian Stuart O?Grady. ?Twelve hours mate? That?s nothing.

The others who raced in America and then Belgium in quick succession fared less well.

Last year O’Grady was one of just five who attempted it. Mathew Hayman of Rabobank was a hugely creditable 15th but Antonio Cruz (76th), Allan Davis (81st) and Mauro Da Dalto (DNF) perhaps felt the effects of jet lag.

Our bet is that home town pressure will mean Boonen starts on Saturday unless Quick Step can come with an audacious last-minute excuse. Whether he’s a factor in the race is another matter.

But we?ll see on Saturday if Boonen, Bettini and the other jet-setters show any ill-effects.

See www.cyclingweekly.co.uk for coverage and reaction from Belgium this weekend