Six days left to Flanders—that means one thing: time for a trip to the Belgian coastal town of De Panne for a lovely three days of sun and fun by the North Sea.
Obviously you’ve never been to De Panne in April.
The 3 Days of De Panne is the final chance for riders seeking to fine-tune their form for Sunday’s Ronde. With 4 stages over 3 days the race does not disappoint—unless you’re one of the many who will crash on these windswept coastal plains. De Panne is race that will literally make or break a rider’s form. For some, it gives one last chance to grow accustomed to the roads and the weather; for others, it can turn that sniffle into the flu or that shiny new frame into a twisted piece of post-modern sculpture.
This year’s race covers more than 500km and follows the traditional formula. The first stage covers 199km and tackles the most climbs of the race (many from Sunday). Expect a break to get away that will produce the first race leader (who will most likely hold the jersey until the last stage). The following stage is longer, but contains less hills (although the Kemmelberg is nothing to sneeze at). This will probably end in a bunch sprint—unless the wind breaks the race into groups. The Kemmelberg’s presence (or should I say it’s descent) also means a higher chance for a race-ending crash for at least one unlucky soul. Thursday morning brings a 112km jaunt around De Panne (almost certain to end in a bunch sprint), followed by a 15km time trial in the afternoon (in which most riders probably won’t even start).
Looking over the preliminary start list, the riders can be sorted into three groups of favorites: one-day men for Stage 1, sprinters for Stages 2 and 3a, and all-rounders who can time trial for Stage 3b and the overall win.
So here you go:
Hoste, Gilbert, Van Impe, Ivanov, Frishkorn, Maaskant, Willems, Bozic, Eisel
Stages 2 and 3a
Cavendish, Brown, Boonen, Roelants, Dominguez, Henderson, Bennati, Hunter
Stage 3b and Overall
Devolder, Sutton, Wiggins, Tuft, Hoste, Poosthuma, Van Impe
A few interesting notes on this race—things to keep an eye on:
1. George Hincapie has decided to leave this race off his program. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with this decision. Hincapie has more than enough kilometers in his legs and he knows these roads better anyone without “Van-something” as a last name. Sitting this one out might be enough to keep him sharp for the week to come. If he wins Flanders or Roubaix, you can officially say it’s because he missed De Panne (and that you read it here first).
2. De Panne also marks the appearance of Garmin-Chipotle. I’m excited to see what the Argyle boys will do. Maaskant used this race as a launch pad last year—will he do it again? What about Tuft? I think he’s a rider particularly suited to races of this type—it will be interesting to see what he does on a stage this large.
3. Boonen is starting, but will not finish—barring something completely unforeseen.
My pick for the win? Devolder.