Sandwiched between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix is Flanders' oldest race, Scheldeprijs. Since 2010, the race has held this prestigious spot and it is an opportunity for the pure sprinters to show their mettle.
Though it sits in the centre of the two biggest cobbled races on the calendar there is barely a cobble to speak of in this often-chaotic race. The race generally attracts a few of the big Classics contenders looking for a chance to do some in-race training, though most chose to stay away.
This season it is much the same with Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) and the Team Sky pairing of Luke Rowe and Gianni Moscon the only real contenders for Paris-Roubaix set to take the start on Wednesday. Nevertheless, there is a strong WorldTour contingent with 10 top-tier teams on the start list and a raft of top sprinters.
Fabio Jakobsen will lead the line for Deceuninck-QuickStep, wearing the number one on his back after winning the reduced bunch sprint in wet conditions last year. Jakobsen won on his first outing this season at the Volta ao Algarve and looked consistent against tough competition at Paris-Nice. Partly due to illness, his record in Belgium has not been superb so far this year, but this is a chance to turn that around. The team also has Alvaro Hodeg in their arsenal as a back-up, with Davide Martinelli and Michael Morkov providing support in the lead-out train.
You can't talk too long about Scheldeprijs without mentioning Marcel Kittel, the rider with more wins than anyone at the race. Kittel has won five of the last seven editions, beginning with his first back in 2012. Despite getting off the mark quickly at the Trofeo Palma, it has been another difficult start to the season for Kittel and a win here would be welcome news. He will be hoping to avoid the misfortune of last year's race, where he punctured on the final lap.
Last year's runner up, Pascal Ackermann is another rider who will be looking to get things back on track on Schoten on Wednesday afternoon. The German national road champion heads up Bora-Hansgrohe's line-up with Peter Sagan resting up for the weekend. Ackermann has performed well so far this season with wins at the Clasica de Almeria and the Bredene Koksijde Classic, but his more recent results have been disappointing. With his teammate Sam Bennett on sterling form so far this season, the pressure is on Ackermann to get results.
The German contingent is a strong one at Scheldeprijs with Andre Greipel set to lead the Arkea-Samsic team. Greipel has never won the race, with his best finish third place in 2016, behind Kittel and Mark Cavendish. Team Sunweb brings another German contender in Max Walscheid, as well as Dutchman Cees Bol, who won Nokere Koerse.
UAE Team Emirates have left Fernando Gaviria and 2015 winner Alexander Kristoff off the start list, with both set to ride Paris-Roubaix at the weekend. Instead, they bring Jasper Philipesen. Edward Theuns, who's second place behind Kristoff in 2015 - among other results - helped earn him a WorldTour ride, will be aiming to deliver Trek-Segafredo a much-needed victory in Belgium. Trek-Segafredo also has the young Matteo Moschetti in their midst.
Other riders to watch out for will be last year's third-place finisher Chris Lawless and his teammate Kristoffer Halvorsen (Team Sky), Dan McLay (EF Education First), Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data), Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Cycling Academy), Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie), Lorrenzo Manzin (Vital Concept) and Timothy Dupont (Wanty-Group Gobert).
Scheldeprijs used to start in Antwerp but following the move of the Tour of Flanders start from Bruges to Antwerp, it has moved in recent years. In 2017, it started in Mol to celebrate the final Belgian race for Tom Boonen. That was a one-off, and last year it moved again to the Dutch town of Terneuzen, which will once again host the start this season.
The change in start makes for a largely different route, which keeps the race in the Netherlands until the riders cross the border with 57 kilometers to go. The course used to loop around to the northeast of Antwerp, but now heads northwest towards Middleburg, before turning east and making its way to the border.
A lengthy neutral section brings the riders through a tunnel and under the Schelde estuary before the race can begin properly in Borsele. It will continue to make its way northwest towards Middelburg and then Noord-Beveland, where it will make its turn back towards Belgium. For much of the day, the route will skirt the coastline and crosswinds will always have the potential to break up the race.
The crossing of the border back into Belgium comes with just over a quarter of the race remaining as the peloton passes through the town of Putte. Just over 10 kilometers later, the riders will be entering Antwerp to begin the final circuit which will be crossed the first of three times with 33km to go.
The twisting technical nature of the final makes for a challenging finale and more often than not it creates a bit of chaos. Those hoping to take victory will have to navigate this and avoid the inevitable crashes as the teams jostle for position.
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