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Startline Gallery: Day 1 at De Panne

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French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep)

French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Europcar Colnago bikes

The Europcar Colnago bikes (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Bert De Backer (Project 1t4i)

Bert De Backer (Project 1t4i) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i)

Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Acqua & Sapone team

The Acqua & Sapone team (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Blaz Jarc leads the Netapp team

Blaz Jarc leads the Netapp team (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Rusvelo team on the startline

The Rusvelo team on the startline (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Svein Tuft (GreenEdge)

Svein Tuft (GreenEdge) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The startline in Middelkerke

The startline in Middelkerke (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Leif Hoste (right) has had a strong start to the Classics

Leif Hoste (right) has had a strong start to the Classics (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The 2012 RusVelo team kit

The 2012 RusVelo team kit (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The startline in de Panne

The startline in de Panne (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep)

French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-Big Mat) checks his back wheel

Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-Big Mat) checks his back wheel (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Andre Greipel (Lotto) won the first stage in last year's race

Andre Greipel (Lotto) won the first stage in last year's race (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Erik Zabel

Erik Zabel (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Danilo Hondo (Lampre)

Danilo Hondo (Lampre) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team)

Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team)

Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Norwegian road champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)

Norwegian road champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Stuart O'Grady (GreenEdge) is here for the first time in his long career

Stuart O'Grady (GreenEdge) is here for the first time in his long career (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team)

Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Andre Greipel's Ridley bike

Andre Greipel's Ridley bike (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Andre Greipel's Ridley bike

Andre Greipel's Ridley bike (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Lotto team will be hoping to kick-start their spring campaign this week

The Lotto team will be hoping to kick-start their spring campaign this week (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Tomas Vaitkus (GreenEdge)

Tomas Vaitkus (GreenEdge) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)

It wasn’t so long ago that the Three Days of de Panne were a key feature in any true Classics rider’s season. As a build-up to the Tour of Flanders the race was a key indicator of form, not to mention a genuinely important race target in its own right.

In recent years the big guns have shied away from the race, using the period up to Flanders as a time of rest and specific training. This year continues that pattern with Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert all staying away.

However there are still more than enough reasons to watch the race and keep abreast of its developments. For a start, the likes of Sylvain Chavanel, Stijn Devolder and Peter Sagan are all competing, while the parcours itself is deliberately testing enough to warrant attention. The three-day test concludes with a time-trial but the first stage is often the most crucial.

Last year Andre Greipel attacked from a select group of riders, taking the win and the race lead.