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French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep)
At the start in Middelkerke
It wasn’t so long ago that the Three Days of de Panne were a key feature in any true Classics rider’s season. As a build-up to the Tour of Flanders the race was a key indicator of form, not to mention a genuinely important race target in its own right.
In recent years the big guns have shied away from the race, using the period up to Flanders as a time of rest and specific training. This year continues that pattern with Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert all staying away.
However there are still more than enough reasons to watch the race and keep abreast of its developments. For a start, the likes of Sylvain Chavanel, Stijn Devolder and Peter Sagan are all competing, while the parcours itself is deliberately testing enough to warrant attention. The three-day test concludes with a time-trial but the first stage is often the most crucial.
This year’s opening is a 201km slog from Middelkerke to Oudenaarde with 12 climbs dotted along the course.
Last year Andre Greipel attacked from a select group of riders, taking the win and the race lead.