Many will be meeting new teammates for the first time, new kit, new bikes, new expectations. After months of social rides and training camps, it’s back to business. On Saturday Het Nieuwsblad, followed hot on its heels by Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the following day.

Like the first day of school, nerves buzz around the peloton. Even the hardest of training rides is no comparison to what’s about to happen. Everyone waits for the start impatiently and expectantly. The first taste of burn in their legs and lungs, the surge of the peloton, the organised chaos, crashes and near-misses, the white intensity. This is it – the season starts here…

These previously unpublished photos by Camille McMillan capture the start of the 2009 season at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne…

Above & Top: A last minute piss, and some final words of advice. A bleak Belgian car park plays host to the team’s preparations – it’s many miles away from the sun and glitz of the summer grand tours.
Right: New season, familiar rituals. A CC Bourges rider gives a team mate a hand pinning on his numbers.

Trouble with a new gadget? Or maybe showing off his winter mileage stats? And does the plaster on his knee hide a nick from the first shave of the year?

The race is fought out under grey skies and the flat winter landscape. The enthusiastic crowd thinly lines the road, TV cameras broadcast the action back to the audience at home. The finish comes down to a ten man group – Juan-Antonio Flecha launches a late attack only to be caught by Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel with one kilometre to the finish. Cervelo’s Jeremy Hunt leeds out the sprint from 300m, only to be overhauled by Tom Boonen close to the line.

Tom Boonen, the victor, is the centre of attention. His face may betray a sense of relief – after being beaten in the previous day’s Het Nieuwsblad he records a win on home soil. In April he went on to win Paris-Roubaix for the third time. Days later his season disintegrated after testing positive for cocaine in an out of competition test.