As fans patiently wait for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix -the final instalment of the cobbled classics season, Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs satiates the fans desire for racing and gives the sprinters a chance to steal some glory. Despite its midweek placing, the Belgian race always attracts large crowds, with many of the big Paris-Roubaix contenders using it as an opportunity to stretch the legs ahead of the big day.
Defending Paris-Roubaix champion Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) will not be present at the 103rd edition, but fellow Hell of the North contenders Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) Lars Boom (Astana), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) will all line-up. However, most of them will just hoping to stay safe on Wednesday, stepping aside for the fast men in their teams.
The 200-kilometre race is a rare opportunity for the pure sprinters to notch up a victory during the Belgian spring. Despite its position in the cobbled calendar, Scheldeprijs has little in the way of the pavé. The parcours is also lacking in climbs, making life difficult for a breakaway to stay away, and making it a relatively easy race to control for the sprinters teams. The race begins in Antwerp and covers a 150km loop in the northeast of Belgium. The finish is in Schoten, with riders covering a 16.4km finishing circuit three times before the high-speed sprint finish.
Last season, Marcel Kittel became the first rider to win the race on three times. However, illness means that the defending champion won’t be on the start line in Antwerp on Wednesday. Giant-Alpecin will be sending his young compatriot Nikias Arndt in his place, with John Degenkolb choosing to rest up before Paris-Roubaix –his final big goal of the spring.
Arndt will face some stiff competition, not least from recent Tour of Flanders winner Kristoff, who will be looking to continue his run of success. Kristoff has been on flying form during the last two weeks and the other teams will no doubt be looking at Katusha to control the race. Kristoff won’t be taking any risks in the Scheldeprijs, with victory at Paris-Roubaix and a rare Classics double a real possibility this weekend. Few people have won both Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix in the same year, with Belgian Jean-Marie Wampers the last to do it in 1989. Nobody has ever won all three, giving Kristoff a shot at making history.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) is another of Sunday’s contenders who has a chance of victory on Wednesday. Sagan’s form has been a mystery so far this season and victory here would be a much needed lift for the Slovakian. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) was expected to target Scheldeprijs but after his strong ride at the Tour of Flanders, his Lotto Soudal team has confirmed he will focus on Paris-Roubaix too.
Mark Cavendish also missing from the start list, preferring to rest up after a long early-season and a nasty stomach virus that hit his form during Tirreno-Adriatico and meant he was not at his best for Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem.
This creates a chance for other sprinters and Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka) is one of only two former winners on the start list, Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast) is the other previous victor on the start list. Farrar finished second in last year’s race and a podium position would be a huge boost to the South African team’s sprint squad. They also come with Theo Bos and the in-form Youcef Reguigui as options.
Without Cavendish, his lead-out man Mark Renshaw will lead Etixx-QuickStep’s hopes at the race while other contenders for the victory are Astana’s Andrea Guardini, Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18).