The 35th KBC Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde began today with Stage 1 of the four-stage/three-day event. The final warm-up for many riders before this Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, De Panne has increasingly seen less of the Ronde’s top favorites take part as they choose to avoid risking an event often known for flu-causing weather and Ronde-ruining crashes. Instead, second-tier contenders and sprinters participate, hoping to score one final win before relegated to supporting roles Sunday.
Of the major contenders for the Ronde Sunday, Vacansoleil’s Stijn Devolder, Katusha’s Filippo Pozzato, and BMC’s Alessandro Ballan all lined-up today. Devolder and Ballan won De Panne in 2005 and 2007, respectively, making the Italian the last De Panne winner to win the Tour of Flanders in the same week.
Vacansoleil’s Lieuwe Westra is my pick to win this year’s race—he finished second today and is by far one of the event’s better time trialists—although Devolder’s not be ignored either. Lotto’s Andre Greipel won the sprint at the end of today’s Stage 1 after spending much of the finale off the front—he could easily add another win or two to his tally. As for tomorrow and Thursday morning, also look for HTC’s John Degenkolb and Rabobank’s Michael Matthews to continue their budding rivalry. Thursday afternoon’s time trial should be Westra’s chance to take the leader’s jersey, while Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, RadioShack’s Jesse Sergeant, and UnitedHealthcare’s Scott Zwizanski should challenge him for the stage victory.
As for Devolder, Pozzato, and Ballan? I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in a break tomorrow—just to test their legs. But for them, the real test comes Sunday.
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