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48th Brabantse Pijl - 1.1
Belgium, March 30, 2008
By Bjorn Haake
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has achieved a clean hattrick, having won the last three editions of De Brabantse Pijl. This will automatically qualify him as the hottest favourite for the race on Sunday, in addition to the fact he's a rider to watch in any race he enters. The Spaniard will have breakaway-experienced riders Thomas Dekker and Juan Antonio Flecha with him, who can try to disrupt potentially dangerous moves, but go for the win themselves if a sprint does not materialise for the team captain.
But it won't be a walk in the park for Rabobank, with some strong competition at the event. Those potential threats include the Belgian Quick Step team, which is always highly motivated on home soil. While Quick Step's Tom Boonen will skip this race, instead using the E3 to prepare for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the squad will have Italian Paolo Bettini on hand. The dual World Champion has had a quiet spring so far, but with Giovanni Visconti and Carlos Barredo at his side the outfit has a number of cards to play.
Team CSC will be looking for Australian Matthew Goss to cross the line first, with the youngster having already shown his abilities with a podium finish in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Allan Johansen could be another potential winner from the team if he gets into a small break. Johansen's attack over a freeway bridge in the Dwars van Vlaanderen created the winning move, although eventual winner Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) was the strongest that day and soloed home in first place.
Chavanel, along with team-mate Nick Nuyens, will also contest De Brabantse Pijl on Sunday. The duo have proved a formidable combination and will likely again try to create a winning move with a strong showing on the course's climbs.
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) has a good chance of preventing a fourth consecutive win from Freire. While the Italian will be out to prove he can topple Freire after recently coming up short against the rider in Tirreno-Adriatico.
Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) may try to force a win by going solo near the end. His strong solo attacks combined with his good showing on shorter climbs may be enough to propel him up the Alsemberg ahead of everyone else.
Last year's Ronde winner Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) is always dangerous on moves towards the end of a race. The Italian has only had a modest season so far, but being in the winning move of Milano-Sanremo showed he is on the right track. Should there be a sprint, Lampre will look to lead out Fabio Baldato instead.
Despite its political loses Astana is on a roll and a win for the team would come as no surprise. The team is however weakened without fast man Tomas Vaitkus, who recently won the Ronde van het Groene Hart, in its lineup. Instead, Serguei Ivanov and Benoît Joachim will be looking for breaks, while René Haselbacher is the man to look out for in a bunch sprint.
Gerolsteiner will be led by German champion Fabian Wegmann and Swiss power house Markus Zberg. Crédit Agricole will have Patrice Halgand as its main contender while Bouygues Telecom's Thomas Voeckler would also prefer a break to develop, rather than wait to get clobbered, should a large peloton enter the final few hundred metres.
Team Milram is one squad that will work hard to ensure the race ends with a sprint, in which case Erik Zabel will be catapulted off the front in search of victory. Milram will have Niki Terpstra to protect the squad's interests should any break form off the front.
Barloworld could be active in the race with the very strong trio of Enrico Gasparotto, Baden Cooke and Robert Hunter in its lineup.
Of course all the Belgian teams will be highly motivated and Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner and Topsport Vlaanderen's presence at the race, along with the smaller squads Josan - Mercedes Benz and Groupegobert.Com teams. Mitsubishi-Jartazi, Cycle Collstrop, Volksbank, P3 Transfer - Batavus and the Irish Sean Kelly team complete the field.
The route for this year's race is mostly as in years past, but now starts further east, in Leuven, east of Brussels. The race will head south west, past the historic site of Waterloo, before making its way northwest in the town of Nivelle. Once the peloton pass Halle the race heads back east, towards the Alsemberg. A final loop of 16.6 kilometres has to be completed five times before the final grind up the Alsemberg will decide the winner.