Sprinters to the fore at Scheldeprijs

While Belgium still digests the weekend’s epic edition of the Tour of Flanders, the classics campaign continues at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday on a course that should as ever suit the fast men. Double winner Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) tops the billing, and with a full complement of sprinters and a spread of cohesive teams on hand too, the opportunists will have their work cut out to upset the applecart.

After two weeks of racing in the hellingen of the Flemish Ardennes, the topography alters significantly in Scheldeprijs, which takes place in northeastern Belgium. After leaving Antwerp, the peloton tackle a pancake flat 200km route that skirts the Dutch border before returning for three laps of the 16.4km finishing circuit around Schoten.

With no climbs on the route, the biggest obstacle to the sprinters’ dominance should come from weather conditions, and the wind in particular. However, with so many strong teams in the race, and with a number of the big names in the field riding with one eye firmly fixed on next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix, it will be a surprise if the race does not come back together in Schoten.

Cavendish makes his first appearance in the race since the second of his consecutive victories in 2008. After a crash prevented him from contesting the bunch finish in Gent-Wevelgem, he will certainly not be lacking in motivation here. The Manxman has been struggling for form so far this season, with just one victory to his name, but he finished Sunday’s Tour of Flanders in good shape and is fancied to take the spoils.

Last year’s winner Tyler Farrar has been a consistent performer in an otherwise disappointing Garmin-Cervélo spring campaign. The team’s best finisher at Flanders, he was also on the podium at both Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem, and will be in the mix again here. With Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler also due to line up, Jonathan Vaughters has a strong squad at his disposal, but Farrar will surely be the protected rider.

Tom Boonen is set to lead the Quick Step charge, and in spite of maintaining that he is no longer a sprinter, the Belgian won Gent-Wevelgem in a bunch finish ahead of a number of sprinters including Farrar. After his 4th place finish at Flanders on Sunday, he may well be in search of a boost to his morale ahead of Paris-Roubaix, and he will also be keen to put on a show on his home roads.

Tirreno-Adriatico stage winner Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Three Days of De Panne stage winner Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) have each shown strong recent form, while other fast men who will be in contention include Robbie McEwen (RadioShack), Adam Blyth (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Theo Bos (Rabobank), Jimmy Casper (Saur-Sojasun), Chris Sutton (Sky) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank).

Still smarting from his defeat at the Tour of Flanders, Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) is also set to line up at Scheldeprijs, but one would expect his emphasis will be on keeping things ticking over ahead of Paris-Roubaix. Other riders in the same bracket include Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Manuel Quinziato and George Hincapie (BMC).


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