After the tension and celebration of the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders and a few days before Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, the riders lined up for the Scheldeprijs race and were a little more relaxed, with most hoping for a quiet day in the peloton before the usual high-speed sprint.
Race favourites Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) are expected to fight for victory in the sprint finish but for Fabian Cancellara (Trek Segafredo), Ian Stannard (Team Sky), Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tour of Flanders winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Scheldeprijs is a chance to see how their legs are feeling after the Tour of Flanders and get in one more ride before heading to northern France to recon the pave one last time before Paris Roubaix.
The riders gathered in the shadows of the Mas Port Pavilion in the restored Antwerp dock area. The morning started with a tepid sun and warm temperatures but a westerly wind was blowing. It chilled the air and dragged grey clouds across northern Belgium.
The riders signed autographs and signed on before gathering for the start. There was little talk of attacks with everyone expecting a high-speed dash to the lane despite the changes to the final three kilometres and the inclusion of two extra corners designed to line out the peloton and so avoid the risk of another high-speed crash. Safety is still on the riders’ minds after the tragic death of Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider Antoine Demoitié.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) had one simple goal: “Beat Kristoff…” he said before defecting any responsibility for controlling the race from his reduced squad.
“You need a good sprint to win here and you need a strong team to ride the final,” he said. “Renshaw’s out with a bruise, so we're down to seven men but we’ll see what we can do. I think Tyler (Farrar) is good, I’ve won here three times. Of course Kittel is here for it, so he’s the man to watch.”
Farrar confirmed that Cavendish is Dimension Data’s protected sprinter. “Cav is without question our guy. I think he looks good, he’s got a lot of speed coming off the track and has done some good work on the road since track worlds, so I expect him to be good today,” he told Cyclingnews.
"I’m interested to see the new finish, I’ve only seen it on paper. I think it looks good. There’s a good chance it will make the sprint safer, the corners will stretch things a little bit more. It was such a long straight and with about 600 metres to go the leadouts would tend to stall up and you’d get a big swarm from behind. So hopefully adding the two turns will string it out enough that that doesn’t happen. I’ve crashed once in one of the big pile-ups here, it’s often a messy sprint here, so hopefully this cleans it up today.”
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