- Alex Hinds
Sylvain Chavanel in career best form, Freire chasing fourth title
Three former winners, Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and Antony Geslin (FDJ) will line up for the 51st edition of the Brabantse Pijl, the traditional precursor to the Ardennes classics, but there is plenty of room for a new winner in 2011. A hilly 201.1 km Belgian course gives both the puncheurs and the sprinters a chance in what is often a very unpredictable race.
There are no less than 31 climbs in the race, with 24 coming in the final 80km. Each of the climbs are short and sharp which will favour a punchier rider over a traditional out and out climber. One thing is for sure though; the man who takes the final honours will be the one who can best measure his efforts throughout the undulating course. This year's Brabantse Pijl has also been upgraded to an HC race by the UCI which will add that little bit of extra prestige to whoever is able to conquer the up and down parcours.
Riders to look out for
Oscar Friere will be chasing his fourth victory in a race he has made his own but will face stiff competition from Sylvain Chavanel, who will be looking translate his form from Flanders and Roubaix into a win in "The Brabant Arrow" . Philippe Gilbert (Omega-Pharma Lotto) will also be one to look out for, the Belgian has been everpresent in the spring so far, but like Chavanel has been a little unlucky in the bigger races. Gilbert will be hungry to give himself some confidence going into Amstel Gold and La Fleche Wallone next week, and the support of a home crowd will do nothing to detract from his chances.
If it comes down to a bunch sprint, young HTC-Highroad fast-man Leigh Howard or BMC veteran Greg Van Avermaet will likely feature; with both of their American teams bringing strong lineups to Leuven. Young American Taylor Phinney also returns to racing having missed Roubaix due to injury. Belgian Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) will hope to turn a page in his season having had a forgettable classics season so far in 2011.
Of the smaller teams, Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli), who rode strongly last weekend at the Giro dell'Appennino, could have a chance as he builds toward the Giro d'Italia. Canadian Svein Tuft (Spidertech - C10) might also try to get away late in the race or even journeyman Nico Eeckhout, who has an uncanny ability to pop up in the right place at the business end of a race.