The sprinters return to the fore in the spring Classics on Wednesday for the 102nd edition of the Scheldeprijs race in northern Flanders.
For the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), the 200km race near Antwerp, will be a final hit out before Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. However the HC category race is a big objective for sprinters.
Mark Cavendish will not ride for Omega Pharma-QuickStep due the effects of a virus after Milan-San Remo but the Belgian team will field lead out men Mark Renshaw, Alessandro Petacchi and team leader Tom Boonen as it looks to make up for a confused performance at the Tour of Flanders.
However the sprinters remain the big favourites, with Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Theo Bos (Belkin), Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) the most likely candidates for victory.
The oldest race in Flanders
The Scheldeprijs race dates back to 1907 and is the oldest bike race in Flanders. It was known by its French-language name of Grand Prix de l'Escaut for many years but a change of date in 2010 to before Paris-Roubaix transformed it from the final race of the spring for many of the Classics riders to an important goal for the sprinters.
The 200km course starts in Antwerp and loops north and east over the flats near the border with the Netherlands, before swinging back for a 16km finishing circuit around Schoten.
The flat race route, includes several sections of cobbles but they rarely split the peloton, with a risk of side winds a far bigger factor. Positioning is vital in the finale, with crashes always a possibility on the fast but curving final kilometre.
The Scheldeprijs roll of honour includes Eddy Merckx, Rik van Looy, Mario Cipollini, Freddy Maertens, Roger De Vlaeminck, Erik Zabel, Briek Schotte, Stan Ockers, Georges Ronsse and Tom Boonen. Belgium's Piet Oellibrandt jointly holds the record for most wins with Mark Cavendish, having both recorded three victories.
Kittel will be targeting his third consecutive victory on Wednesday and Giant-Shimano has named a team to back him and lead him out. Other names that are also worth a punt with a Belgian bookmaker include Andrea Guardini (Astana), Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling), Francesco Chicchi (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo), Sam Bennett (NetApp-Endura) and Danilo Napolitano (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
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