The top sprinters in the world are set to clash at the Women’s WorldTour Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne on Thursday in Belgium. Among those sprinters are all three previous winners - defending champion Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM), Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit-WNT) and Jolien D’hoore (SD Worx).
Last year’s edition of Brugge-De Panne ended with a controversial sprint that saw D’hoore cross the line first but was swiftly relegated for deviating from her line and officials awarded the win to Wiebes. The pair are expected to once again go head-to-head in De Panne.
Wiebes will be looking for a second consecutive win and she has a strong team to support her that includes veteran Leah Kirchmann. D’hoore will likely be looking to redeem herself after last year’s error, but she will also try for a second victory after winning the inaugural edition in 2018.
Wild, too, will want to take a second victory after winning the 2019 edition and she has a powerful Ceratizit-WNT squad that includes time trial specialist Lisa Brennauer, who was second last year.
The women's field will race 158.8 kilometres, which pushes towards the limit of the UCI's maximum distance of 160km for Women's WorldTour one-day races. The race begins in Brugge and follows a route along an opening 51 kilometres toward the local circuits in De Panne that are 45km each, routed through De Moeren, Houtem, Bulskamp and Veurne.
All eyes will be on Wiebes, Wild and D’hoore because they are the fastest women in the peloton when it comes to pure sprinting. However, there are other Classics and sprint specialists that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if the winds are strong.
Double Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky, third in the two previous editions, lines up with Liv Racing after a strong start to her season with a victory at Le Samyn and fourth places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Nokere Koerse. She will be a rider to watch, not just for an anticipated bunch sprint, but also for a potential breakaway. Kopecky’s teammate Evy Kuijpers noted that the wind could play in important role in the outcome of the race this year.
“If the weather forecast is anything to go by, then you know that wind will clearly play a role. That is also part of this race. Last year, at the end of October, it was also a windy edition and the peloton had completely broken into pieces as a result. Wind gives such a classic an extra dimension which is a nice element. So we will certainly have to take this into account and be sharp” said Kuijpers.
“Everyone can see that the team is doing well at the moment. If we reach our level again on Thursday, we should be able to play a significant role. If the bunch breaks, we have to be at the front with as many teammates as possible. At that point we can take stock and determine how we will further proceed to be successful. I hope to play a supporting role in this. In case of a sprint, I want to put my teammates in a good position.”
Team BikeExchange have a strong sprinter in Arianna Fidanza but also potential contenders in Grace Brown, Teniel Campbell, and Sarah Roy, who finished fourth last year.
“My Classics form has been building well over the last few races, and I’ve been working hard in training at home, so I’m looking forward to the next few weeks in Belgium," Roy said. “I enjoy racing De Panne and hopefully I can improve on my race of last year when I finished fourth in the sprint. The form is good, and I am heading there extremely motivated.”
British champion Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) is a notable sprinter to watch in De Panne after finishing sixth last year.
"I'm happy with my form in the races that I've done so far this season. We’re going in to the race on Thursday with a really strong team. Even though it’s a race that very often ends in a sprint, the racing this year has been different and quite unpredictable," said Barnes.
"We'll look to race to the strengths of our team and play off one another. We can't afford to make the same mistakes like last year in De Panne where we wasted energy and almost missed the final move."
Chloe Hosking, second in 2018, was a late addition to Trek-Segafredo’s roster for Brugge-De Panne, and a prime contender for the win. She lines up with a strong team that includes Lauretta Hanson and Amalie Dideriksen. The American outfit brought in Hosking and Dideriksen to fill the sprinter’s role on the team for this very occasion.
Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljubljana Cipollini) is another rider to watch, and although she hasn’t shown her top form of 2018 and 2019, she did show promise with top 10s at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Nokere Koerse. She has won Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Drenthe, and Tour of Flanders in the past and never one to discount in a Classic.
Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard will be their protected rider after a series of podium finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Le Samyn, and the Healthy Ageing Tour, but the team also noted that the wind off the North Sea could wreak havoc in the sprinters' teams plans.
"It’s always difficult at De Moeren, an area where gusts really strike the peloton and force all times to ride attentively due to the echelon risk. Pure ‘Northern’ cycling."
Other sprinters to watch include Arlenis Sierra (A.R. Monex Women's Pro Cycling Team) and Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service).
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