By Bjorn Haake in Gent, Belgium
British rider Mark Cavendish has shown in the recent past that he is comfortable on the Belgian roads, having won two stages in the KBC-Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. So the High Road rider will be eager to defend his title at the Scheldeprijs, which he earned by beating Robbie McEwen of Silence-Lotto in a bunch sprint last year.
Chances of a sprint involving most riders of the peloton are good in Schoten, where the race traditionally finishes. After a loop of more than 150 kilometres, the peloton faces three local laps of 16 kilometres, not involving any climbing at all. The likelihood of a sprint finish is emphasised by High Road's line-up. In addition to Mark Cavendish, fast men like Bernhard Eisel, Gerald Ciolek and Edvald Boasson Hagen will try to help secure another win for the American team.
"Mark was a little disappointed after missing out in Gent-Wevelgem but he's been training hard since and wants to make up for it with a second win in Sheldeprijs," said Team High Road sports director Tristan Hofmann. "We've got a good team of experienced and young riders who can win the race in lots of ways, so we won't ride exclusively for Mark from the start, but if the race ends in a sprint you can bet we'll work hard to set him up. He's one of the fastest finishes in the peloton and is on form right now."
It was Erik Zabel who won the race back in 1997, riding for High Road's predecessor team, Telekom. The German will take to the start once again, albeit with the German Milram team. He will have support from Aussie Brett Lancaster, who can keep the pace high in the closing kilometres of a race.
"We expect a typical belgian one-day race with lots of wind and rain," said Milram sport director Raoul Liebregts. "You have to be very attentive in this race. It is always possible for an escape group to come through and for the peloton to be held back because of the strong wind."
But both Cavendish and Zabel will have to watch out for versatile Tom Boonen, who comes from having a good Ronde van Vlaanderen and an even better Paris-Roubaix, which he won in a three-up sprint against Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre). Boonen's team looks already very familiar for these kinds of races, with Cretskens, De Jongh, Hulsmans, Rosseler, Steegmans, Tosatto and Weylandt. The latter has good chances himself, having won Nokere Koerse recently. Gert Steegmans is usually pretty fast, too, but missed Paris-Roubaix due to his ongoing problems following a crash in Dwars van Vlaanderen.
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