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95th Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC
Schoten, Belgium, April 18, 2007
By Gregor Brown in Gent, Belgium
Flanders' oldest race will be celebrating 100 years of cycling tradition when it is run this Wednesday, starting from Schoten. First run in 1907, when Frenchman Maurice Leturgie won, the race has seen many riders successfully conquer its parcours, the last being hometown rider Tom Boonen.
Like Gent-Wevelgem last Wednesday, the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen is a mid-week affair however we are not likely to see riders flying head first down a cobbled descent; the race is pancake-flat and does not offer a challenge like the Kemmelberg. The riders will start in Antwerp, ride a 149 kilometre clock-wise loop and then finish with three 16 kilometre circuits around Schoten, for a total of 197 kilometres. Along the way they will cover several cobbled sections but nothing as serious and race-deciding as the ones that dotted Paris-Roubaix, only three days prior.
The Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen offers a chance for those riders who missed out in or are not suited for Roubaix, and a point of reference before heading to Sunday's Amstel Gold. Unlike the Amstel in Holland, the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen is strictly a sprinters' affair. Riders like Cipollini, Oellibrandt and Van Poppel have ruled the roost here in the past.
Boonen won in 2004 and 2006 and looked like a heavy favourite until his withdrawal on Tuesday due to intestinal problems. The hometown hero will be at the race to support his team-mates, and will ride shotgun in the Quick.Step car with directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters.
Quick.Step have plenty of other cards to play, however, and we could see something from Gert Steegmans. The Belgian had difficulties in Roubaix but he is guaranteed to be in the sprint mix with solid support from Peter Van Petegem and Steven De Jongh.
Is Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) on his way back? The 2002 winner showed his kick by winning the sprint for sixth in Gent-Wevelgem and could be ready to match compatriot O'Grady's triumph in Roubaix. He will have support from Tom Steels and Leif Hoste; the latter just missed out in De Ronde and had bad luck in Roubaix.
T-Mobile will not field Marcus Burghardt and, thus, fans will not see any opportunity for a sixth Gent-Wevelgem/Scheldeprijs double. The German team comes with what is essentially a 'B-squad' choosing to save their stars for Sunday's Amstel Gold.
Liquigas will come with a team capable of delivering; it has Francesco Chicchi, Enrico Gasparotto and Roberto Petito. Last month, Gasparotto was giving the Belgians a run for their money on their home soil, and after a rest in Italy, he could arrive strong. Petito, fresh of a fifth place in Roubaix, is an obvious favourite.
Graeme Brown will lead the Dutch Rabobank team. The Aussie won a stage in Vuelta a Murcia last month and he should have a good kick in his legs for the sprint into Schoten. He will rely on compatriot Mathew Hayman for support.
Other favourites are Mirco Lorenzetto and Erik Zabel of Milram, Wouter Weylandt (Quickstep-Innergetic), Björn Leukemans (Predictor-Lotto), Robert Hunter (Barloworld) and Nico Mattan (DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed).
This Wednesday Cyclingnews will be covering the 95th Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen live. Coverage begins around 14:30 local European time (CEST)/ 8:30 (USA East)/ 23:30 Australia (EST) - also on WAP-enabled mobile devices at http://live.cyclingnews.com/wap/