One of the oldest one-day races on the European calendar, Paris-Brussels, will take place on Saturday, September 10. First run for amateurs in 1893 and then for professionals in 1906, the upcoming 91st edition will see the pro peloton tackle a 219.5km parcours starting in Soissons, France, approximately 85km northeast of Paris, and finishing in Brussels, Belgium.
The Franco-Belgian race was originally placed amidst the Spring Classics, between Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem, but lost its spot on the calendar to the Amstel Gold Race. The race didn't take place from 1966 to 1972, then was brought back in 1973 in a new spot on the calendar with a mid-week position as a build-up to Paris-Tours in September. In 1996, it was moved to its present spot as a Saturday race in September.
A perusal of the event's past champions reveals a who's who of cycling stalwarts with the likes of Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Rik Van Looy, Rik Van Steenbergen, Freddy Maertens, Roger De Vlaeminck, Adri Van der Poel and Frank Vandenbroucke all claiming victory. In more recent editions the race has become the domain of the sprinters, with eight of the previous ten races decided in a bunch gallop.
Nevertheless, there's still eight categorised climbs to contend with along the parcours, with the final three situated in the closing 35km. The final climb, the Keperenberg, is located just 11km from the finish in Brussels and may provide the ideal launch pad for an intrepid attacker(s) not interested in a field sprint finale.
McEwen for six?
Only one rider toeing the start line on Saturday has won Paris-Brussels before, Robbie McEwen (RadioShack), and the evergreen Australian is intimately familiar with success in the event having won it a record five times, including four consecutive victories from 2005 to 2008. Defending champion Francisco Ventoso and 2009 winner Matt Goss are not taking part, but there's a bevy of quality sprinters who will vie for their first-ever Paris-Brussels triumph.
Skil-Shimano's fast-finishing tandem of Roger Kluge and Kenny Van Hummel fired on all cylinders at Wednesday's Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen, where Van Hummel took his fifth victory of the season, and the duo will look to emulate their performance on Saturday.
André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has already claimed eight victories this season, including his first-ever Tour de France stage win, and with the sting of a runner-up finish to Kenny Van Hummel (Skil-Shimano) at the Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen fresh on his mind, the 29-year-old German should have ample motivation for victory in his build-up to the road world championships.
Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM), the 2010 Paris-Brussels runner-up finisher, would ordinarily be considered a top prospect for a victory, but the Frenchman has just returned to racing at Wednesday's Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen following a collarbone break in the final stage of the Tour of Poland approximately a month ago. While Feillu may be in search of miles in his legs in advance of the world championships, he may figure in the finale for the second straight year. Vacansoleil-DCM also has Slovenian sprinter Borut Bozic in its line-up, so there's no shortage of sprinters in the Dutch ProTeam's camp.
Other fast men who vied for victory in the 2010 edition and return this year include Alexander Kristoff (BMC), Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) plus Stefan Van Dijk (Verandas Willems-Accent), third place in 2010.
Additionally, the peloton features fast finishers such as Francesco Chicchi (Quick Step), Baden Cooke and Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Saxo Bank), Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) and Jure Kocjan (Team Type 1-Sanofi), each capable of parlaying a strong finishing kick into a top result.
While there's plenty of teams with sprinters eager to seek a field sprint finish, riders such as Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha), Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) and Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type 1) can be counted on to initiate and power breakaway attempts seeking to win in the manner of Nick Nuyens in 2004, the last rider to claim victory from an attack.