The Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne will embark on its second season as part of the Women's WorldTour, and as such will bring in some of the most high-profile athletes to compete in the one-day, mid-week Classic on March 28 in Belgium. Jolien D'hoore will not be on the start line with her new Boels Dolmans team as she recovers from a broken collarbone, leaving the race wide-open for a new champion.
Organisers added their event to the Women's WorldTour last year, after being forced to reduce their men's Three Days of De Panne to just one day, at the UCI 1.HC level. While the downsize was regarded as a loss for the men's race, the inclusion and upgrade was certainly a success for the women's field. This year, organisers upgraded the men’s race to the WorldTour, too, and so both races will bring in the best racers in the sport.
The women's 134km race, reduced from 151km last year, starts in Bruges and finishes in De Panne, and is held almost entirely along the coast of the North Sea. The race is primarily flat with two intermediate sprints, but there are cobbled sectors that will present challenges for some, and then city circuits in De Panne. Bad weather and strong winds could play the biggest factor in the outcome of the race.
Boels Dolmans finally signed D'hoore to the team for races just like this one. The flat, cobbled routes cater perfectly to her power and sprint capabilities. Not starting the race due to injury is not likely to affect Boels Dolmans chances of success in De Panne, however, as the team is stacked with Classics talent.
This year, they'll field Le Samyn winner Jip van den Bos and former world champion Amalie Dideriksen, Amy Pieters and Christine Majerus, who was third last year.
Women's WorldTour leader Marta Bastianelli (Virtu) earned that top ranking after placing fourth at Strade Bianche and winning the Ronde van Drenthe. She skipped her home round at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, but will return to racing to defend her position on the series at the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
Bastianelli will only be one of the favourites for a likely sprint finish in De Panne, however.
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) will also be on the start line in Bruges after a dominant sprint victory at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda on Sunday. She was part of a breakaway that was caught in the final 200 metres of the race, but secured the victory by some 20 metres on her nearest breakaway companions after a ferocious sprint to the line in Cittiglio.
Ale Cipollini have a solid sprinter in Chloe Hosking, who was second last year and will want to win the race this time around.
Trek-Segafredo field one of the strongest sprint teams on paper with Letizia Paternoster, also returning from the track, as well as Lotta Lepistö and Lauretta Hanson, while time trial specialist Ellen van Dijk could be a perfect lead-out or breakaway card.
Other strong contenders who will be looking for a Women's WorldTour victory this early season are Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb), Kendall Ryan (Tibco-SVB) and Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor), who just finished her track season. Cuba's Arlenis Sierra (Astana) will be another rider to watch, and is one of the dark horses for bunch sprints.
Cyclingnews will be providing live text coverage of the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on March 28.