Tomorrow brings the 98th running of the Scheldeprijs, a 205-kilometer semi-classic in the region surrounding Antwerp. Traditionally run on the Wednesday after Paris-Roubaix, this yearâ€™s race takes the spot vacated by Ghent-Wevelgemâ€™s jump to the Sunday before the Tour of Flanders. While the start list gains a few big names as a result of the move (including Flanders protagonists Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen) with no categorized climbs and less than 10 kilometers of pavÃ©, the race is likely to come down to a field sprint. As for the men hoping for a big day come Sunday, their only real challenge will be staying out of troubleâ€”crashes occur here frequently, especially with so many of the home teams considering the event their last chance for glory before the action heads elsewhere.
Hereâ€™s a run-down of this yearâ€™s notable teams and riders:
1. Last yearâ€™s winner, Alessandro Petacchi, will be wearing #1 for Lampre. With a quietly in-form Danilo Hondo leading him out, tomorrow just might be Petacchiâ€™s day. And if it isnâ€™t, Hondo could take the glory for himself.
2. Quick Stepâ€™s clearly feeling the pressure to win a race in Belgium sometime before the summer kermesse season beginsâ€”otherwise Tom Boonen might have been given a day for some Roubaix recon. Keep in mind: Boonenâ€™s won this race twice already, a third win would certainly satisfy some of the sponsorsâ€”at least until Sunday. Aside from Boonen, Stijn Devolderâ€™s hoping another long day in the saddle will help his form for Roubaix, while Nikolas Maes, Wouter Weylandt, and Maarten Wynants are hoping to pull a surpriseâ€”or at least ride themselves back into favor with Patrick Lefevere.
3. The other big-budget Belgian team feeling the pressure is Omega Pharma-Lotto. For the most part, Omega seems to be treating the Scheldeprijs as a chance for some good training for Sundayâ€™s Paris-Roubaix. The bulk of their Sunday roster is taking part, including Leif Hoste, a man who seems to be rounding into form quite well as of late. For next year, Lotto needs to find a sprinter if they hope to have a realistic chance in a race like this one.
4. HTC-Columbia brings a stacked roster to the starting line in Antwerp tomorrow. Andre Greipel gets to put his money where his mouth is in a race his teammate/nemesis, Mark Cavendish, has already won twice. With Ghent-Wevelgem winner Bernhard Eisel, Mark Renshaw, and Matthew Goss forming the bulk of Greipelâ€™s lead-out train, Greipel could easily take the win.
5. Last Sundayâ€™s big winner and big loser both happen to ride for Saxo Bankâ€”theyâ€™re both racing tomorrow. While Ronde-winner Fabian Cancellara is certainly using the race for training, Matti â€œIt Is About the Bikeâ€ Breschel will certainly be hoping the Scheldeprijs brings him more luck than Flanders did. With Aussies Baden Cooke and Stuart Oâ€™Grady riding support, Breschel might just grab his second Wednesday win of the year.
6. Team Sky is another squad with its sights set squarely on a win in Roubaix this Sunday; theyâ€™re bringing the bulk of their pavÃ©-team to Antwerp, led by Juan Antonio Flecha. That said Skyâ€™s best bet for the win might come from the speedy duo of Greg Henderson and Chris Sutton.
As for the rest of the fieldâ€¦
Katusha is still waiting for word on Filippo Pozzatoâ€™s health. In the meantime, Robbie McEwen will fly the Russian squadâ€™s flag at the Scheldeprijs. Rabobank brings Graeme Brown and Nick Nuyens, with the latter likely training for a solid result on Sunday. On the other hand, the Scheldeprijs is a race almost tailor-made for Garminâ€™s Tyler Farrar. Following his solid performances in Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, heâ€™s certainly capable of taking the win here.
BMCâ€™s Marcus Burghardt and George Hincapie are taking the line as ridingâ€”Burghardt might be the teamâ€™s better shot, as Hincapieâ€™s likely along only for the ride. Milramâ€™s pinning its hopes on Robert Forster and Niki Terpstra, while Theo Bos hopes to score his first major win on the road for Cervelo. Vacansoleil hopes Borut Borzic and Romain Feillu can take the win, while Bjorn Leukemans continues his preparation for Sunday.
BBox brings the bulk of its surprisingly competitive classics team including William Bonnet, Steve Chainel, and Sebastien Turgot; although itâ€™s hard to see them finding much success here. But their compatriots at Saur-Sojasun are hoping Jimmy Casper can steal a victory; while Cofidis will be relying on the talented Belgian Jens Keukelaire to score another win for the men in red and white.
As for a prediction, I think Greipel takes it over Keukelaire, Farrar, Bos, and Casper. His team is stacked for a race of this sort. There will be a crash or two, but hopefully no Roubaix contenders are affected.
So enjoy the raceâ€”even though it wonâ€™t be the same as watching Ghent-Wevelgem.
Who are your picks for tomorrow? Share them below.