Taking place over three days of the week prior to the Tour of Flanders, the Driedaagse De Panne will again feature four stages of hard racing around the Belgian coastal town of De Panne. From Tuesday 29 to Thursday 31, the last 2011 Belgian race held in the month of March will be the perfect bridge for cycling fans eager for the action at "Vlaanderen's Mooiste".
Still, the main favourites of the Tour of Flanders will not be at the start in Middelkerke on Tuesday, as the Cat. 2.HC event always provides for some dangerous racing along the wind-battered North Sea, as well as plenty of dangerously fast finishes. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) preferred to get in some quality training instead - just like the teams Garmin-Cervélo and Leopard-Trek.
But de Panne will still have a top notch line-up on the menu, including former Flanders winners Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC). Unfortunately, 2010 champion David Millar won't be defending his crown due to the absence of his team.
The flat landscapes of coastal Belgium will provide the racing's background, often marked by intense wind gusts coming from the sea, splitting the bunch up into echelons. Those aiming at the overall victory have to make sure they are always in top position - a difficult task once the bunch hits the gas. A 14.7 kilometre-time trial on Thursday afternoon then seals the overall victory.
There are plenty of fast men coming to the event in the hope of - at least - a stage win: Mark Renshaw (HTC), André Greipel (Omega Pharma), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Allan Davis (Astana), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Theo Bos (Rabobank), Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil), Gert Steegmans, ,Francesco Chicci (both Quick Step) and Jimmy Casper (Saur), amongst others.
But it will take more than a top finishing speed to take the overall honours, as the albeit short final time trial has proven decisive in the past. Strong rouleurs such as Ballan, Pozzato and Steegmans, but also Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Peter Sagan (Liquigas) and others who could target the general classification.
The event should get underway under clear skies, but for Wednesday and Thursday the Belgian weather forecast predicts more clouds and a high risk of showers, as well as the usual winds blowing up to 40 km/h - the kind of true Flandrian weather all cycling fans have come to love.