Picture gallery: Three Days of De Panne stage 1

The Flanders countdown continues in Middelkerke

The Three Days of De Panne got underway in pleasant conditions in Middelkerke on Tuesday. Although there was a slight chill in the North Sea air at the start, the sun was shining and with surprisingly little wind, the peloton should not fragment significantly until it hits the first of the day’s twelve climbs at Edelare.

While a number of Flanders favourites are keeping their powder dry for Sunday, most notably Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and the Garmin-Cervélo squad, there are a number of riders here who are carefully honing their form ahead of De Ronde.

Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) took his Belgian bow on Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem, and he is topping up on his cobbled miles in De Panne. Alessandro Ballan leads the BMC charge, and they have been significantly boosted by the presence of Manuel Quinziato. Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss are part of a formidable Liquigas-Cannondale line-up, while Sylvain Chavanel takes the reins at Quick Step in Boonen’s absence.

While today’s stage seems one for the classics hard men, the sprinters will get a chance to shine later in the week, with Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF Inox), Jimmy Casper (Saur-Sojasun), Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD), Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) and André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) among the fast men on show. Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) will surely be the favourite for the concluding time trial, and the Englishman appeared in relaxed mood in Middelkerke.

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