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49th Brabantse Pijl - 1.1
Belgium, March 29, 2009
By Bjorn Haake
The 49th edition of the Brabantse Pijl ("arrow of Brabant") will be run in Belgium on Sunday, March 29, 2009 over 193.3 kilometres. With 15 little climbs and an uphill finish it is not a race made for pure sprinters.
However, the event can suit a strong rider who knows how to handle a sprint, like Oscar Freire proved from 2005 to 2007, when he won this race three times in a row. The Spaniard won't be at the start this year, handing the role of favourite to Quick Step's Allan Davis.
Davis can handle an uphill sprint well and his fourth place in Milano-Sanremo showed that he is in great form. Considering the Brabantse Pijl is a good hundred kilometres shorter than the Italian Classic, the Australian should have fairly fresh legs to make the cut in the last laps.
Quick Step also showed in Dwars door Vlaanderen that the team is going strong, placing four riders in the initial break of eleven and then three riders in the decisive five-man move. It is no accident that both Davis and Quick Step lead the world rankings in their respective categories. Last year's winner Sylvain Chavanel, also a member of Patrick Lefevere's team this season, will however not defend his title.
Quick Step's Belgian rival team Silence-Lotto is still looking for a win in 2009. The squad decided to line up with Philippe Gilbert as the leader, a rider who is also able to get away in the tricky finale and decide the race in a solo attack.
Both teams will have to have a watchful eye on Milram's Fabian Wegmann, but not on Gerald Ciolek, who is sick and won't be able to race. Wegmann is a puncheur who can get away on the little, steep climbs.
Cervélo TestTeam looking good
The Cervélo TestTeam has looked very sharp this year and Thor Hushovd won the opening Classic, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Het Volk). That race also ended on an incline and Hushovd definitely has the power to prevail in the end. With Simon Gerrans, Cervélo also has a second rider capable of winning outright.
Russian team Katusha also sends a squad that can win either through a move by Filippo Pozzato or a sprint win via Gert Steegmans. Steegmans won the 2007 Tour de France stage into Gent on the same uphill sprint where Hushovd took the Omloop, so a sprint between the two on the Alsemberg would be an interesting scenario.
Danish team Saxo Bank will count on Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Karsten Kroon, both experienced enough to get away in the end. Kroon finished fourth in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and could well play a role in the Brabantse Pijl.
Cofidis lost its Classics man Alexandre Blain for now, but has Leonardo Duque to fight in a small group sprint. Some of the Pro Continental and Continental teams also cannot be counted out, with strong sprinters or attackers in their line-ups: Hilton Clarke (Fuji-Servetto), Barb Koené and David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago), René Haselbacher (Vorarlberg-Corratec) or Niko Eeckhout (An Post Sean Kelly Team and recently second in Dwars door Vlaanderen) to name but a few.
Interesting to see will be the comeback of Wim Van Huffel with Vorarlberg-Corratec. Silence-Lotto didn't renew Van Huffel's contract last year and he struggled to find a team. The Belgian will undoubtedly be eager to show his former employer that not renewing the contract of the 17th-placed in the 2006 Giro was a mistake.
The route: lots of hellingen
The race starts out in the university town of Leuven, to the east of Brussels. The race heads south-west to Nivelles, switching from the province of Brabant-Wallon to Vlaams-Brabant and back several times.
In Nivelles (km 50), the flat part is over and the first helling (meaning "hill" rather than "hell") comes fittingly in the Rue de la Montagne (Mountain Street). From there four more climbs follow until the racers hit the finish line for the first time, a little past the midway point (km 110).
The final 16.8km lap has to be completed five times. Each lap two hills are in the way, the Bruineput (about five kilometres in to the loop) and the Lindenberg (about 12km in to the loop). This adds up to ten more climbs and is the reason why a pure sprinter will have a hard time to win.
The finish is on the Alsemberg and while not rated as one of the climbs, it is not particularly flat.