Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde preview by Jeff Jones
The KBC Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde, now in its 29th year this year, is one of the highlights of the Vlaamse Wielerweek (Flemish cycling week) that culminates in this Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). The race is held around West and East Flanders over a well established parcours, and usually the general classification is determined in the final 13.7 km time trial around De Panne.
The first stage from the coastal town of Middelkerke to Zottegem is also selective, with a total of 11 climbs, including three times up the Leberg and Berendries. The stage is just over 200 km and often a medium sized group can establish a half minute lead over the rest of the peloton here. Stage 2 from Zottegem to Koksijde (Sint-Idesbald) is a long one at 231 km and features the climbs of Kanarieberg, Taaienberg and Eikenberg early on. These may serve as a springboard for an early break, but the peloton will have plenty of time to regroup and chase everything down for a bunch sprint in Koksijde.
The third day includes two stages, both starting and finishing in De Panne. In the morning, the riders will do 116 km stage with the Monteberg, Rodeberg and Vidaigneberg in the first 50 km. The Kemmelberg has not been included this year. The rest of the stage is flat, and sometimes the wind can help to cause a selection, but more often than not, this stage finishes in a bunch sprint. The final stage is a flat 13.7 km time trial around the streets of De Panne, including a few cobbled sections and some fairly technical riding in other parts. The seconds gained here are nearly always enough to determine the final winner, unless someone has managed to establish a huge gap in the preceding stages.
Last year, George Hincapie (US Postal) finished third in the time trial, which was enough to give him the overall classification. Hincapie was very strong in Sunday's Brabantse Pijl, and should again be one of Discovery's main riders for this race. Belgian powerhouse Quick.Step will be bringing Tom Boonen and his merry men to De Panne, and Boonen will definitely be trying for a stage win or two, but will likely ease off before the end to save something for the Ronde on Sunday.
Davitamon-Lotto has two strong candidates for the overall win: Peter Van Petegem and Nico Mattan. Both are past winners (PVP twice) and will be wanting to give their legs a final test before the Ronde. T-Mobile, still looking for its first win this season, has Andreas Klier and Steffen Wesemann in its line up, and both riders should be in the action.
Fassa Bortolo has brought its time triallist Fabian Cancellara, along with classics specialist Juan Antonio Flecha, while Liquigas-Bianchi features the aging Lion King, Mario Cipollini on its roster, as well as Magnus Bäckstedt. Look out for Francaise des Jeux's Baden Cooke, who seems to be finding a little bit of form, Rabobank's Steven de Jongh, Liberty's Allan Davis and Phonak's Robert Hunter in the sprints.
Finally, Belgian Pro Continental teams Chocolade Jacques, MrBookmaker.com and Landbouwkrediet-Colnago will be looking to earn a few UCI points as this is not a ProTour race. Nico Eeckhout, Steven Caethoven, Kevin van Impe (Chocolade Jacques), Gorik Gardeyn, Jeremy Hunt (MrBookmaker), Ludo Dierckxsens and Bert de Waele (Landbouwkrediet) are the riders to look for there.