Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne Preview
Out from the deep south-east of Belgium comes the first of the final set of World Tour cobbled classics, the race was known as a build-up stage-race for the Tour of Flandres but was last used as a stage-race in 2017 (where Phillipe Gilbert did the double). Since last year it became a one-day race and came up to the WorldTour ranks where it's gained a new reputation and also a very different race (as normal with such transformation).
In the course of it's stage-racing record the normal would be to see top classics riders taking the win here, names like David Millar, Sylvain Chavanel, Alexander Kristoff and most recently Phillipe Gilbert have won in the last decade, and last year in it's first one-day edition it was Deceuninck-Quickstep's Elia Viviani taking the win in a bunch sprint.
Only 2Km shorter than last year, the route is essentialy through the West-Flandres region, the same that saw Elia Viviani gather one of his many wins that season. It is a familiar one for the Belgians, coming from Brugge to the Kemmelberg through Ichtegem, after the hilly part of the route the rider will head up north all the way up to De Panne, where they will ride a 26.5Km circuit passing through Koksijde and Veurne twice.
Although early on we may see some echelon attemps, the peloton should remain calm until the entrance in the hilly part of the route. There isn't much climbing, nor many cobblestone sectors to deal with, but the rider will have to climb the Kemmelberg via Beukelaarstraat topping out 123Km from the finish line. Far away but it is a place of opportunity for those who climb well and a chance for some teams to try and break the race appart.
After the Kemmelberg and some little bergs that follow the race will head north, rolling through what will be mostly a block headwind. If there are gaps in the early stage of the race this is likely the place where it can all come back together. There will be two short cobbled sectors in the form of the Veurnestraat and the Beauvoordestraat, it is unlikely though to see these two sectors cause major changes in the race, unless it is due to crashes.
And then we come to the final circuit where the last 52 kilometers will take place. The roads in the center of De Panne and Koksijde are protected from the wind so there we shouldn't see any action. Leaving Koksijde we leave for an open road where there will be a tail-crosswind, an ideal place for an attack as it's just leaving the urbanization.
It will remain similar until they pass just outside of Veurne, where the road will then become narrower as they will head through field roads for some kilometers, battling through crosswinds but also some headwind. After entering back on the main road it will be essentially a headwind all the way to the line, which will surely discourage any echelon attemps.
Entering the final kilometer the road splits into two, usually the left side is taken by the riders, the road won't be larger than a single lane so it will itself be a race for positioning to this spot.
They will power through until the 550 meters to go mark where they will turn right over the train tracks (luckily it will be dry so no real risking of loosing traction) into the finishing straight. The wind won't influence the race from now on, the headwind until this spot may shape the way the leadouts will be done but an experienced rider should still be positioned a bit back, around 5th/6th position as the finishing straight is decievingly long.
As seen here in the 300 meters to go mark the road will really be narrow. Viviani last year kicked off the sprint very early but had enough in the legs to prevent Pascal Ackermann from going through. It has a slight bend to the right so they should know that when they can see the finish line it is time to kick.
The route isn't very hard, the wind won't cause much harm and there isn't any team that has a full-on squad to attack without having a top sprinter in the ranks. With the amount of sprinters in the field it will be hard not to see a bunch sprint deciding the race.
The defending champion Elia Viviani is the first name to point out. His Milano-Sanremo was anything but brilliant, but the team he will have to back him up is very strong. With a bulk of rouleurs to support him, Morkov and Jakobsen riders who can launch him in prime position, it's very possible to see the Italian repeat his win from last season, he should know that finishing straight more than most.
Dylan Gronewegen is the next name. Powerhouse sprinter, his team is very experienced in this type of racing and slowly so is he becoming a part of that core. The Dutch knows how the ride the cobbles, but what will matter here is the top power for sure. His Paris-Nice display was impressive and there is every reason to believe Gronewegen is also a main favourite for the win, and with Mike Teunissen and Danny van Poppel in the squad they can very well have a match for Deceuninck.
And the other sprinter which is considered in the list of the current's fastes is also here, Fernando Gaviria. Although he hasn't looked himself perfectly the last few weeks, he is arguably a major danger and a major candidate for the win, he also has Simone Consonni with him which is a leadout that has been working well this season.
Marcel Kittel will also be here. He's been having some very rough time in Katusha, but he has won this season early. The chances are on the side of not seeing him in the end, but his Paris-Nice ride in the crosswinds recently may be of some encourage for him, a win can come to his side if he is able to play his cards well.
The other German, Pascal Ackermann leads Bora-Hangrohe. He's been having a lot of pressure over the Sam Bennett subject, but he has fought and gave some evidence that he deserves to lead the team in the Giro by sprinting to a dominant win in the Bredene Koksijde Classic friday. He sets out as an outsider due to the competition, but last year he was runner-up and he has shown he is able to battle it out the the strongest.
Outside of those 5 it won't be easy to see another rider win. Perhaps Jens Keukeleire is a big name for the account. Not one used to win, but he has recently been having great results in the sprints and he will have the Lotto Soudal squad behind him. Jurgen Roelandts is the other Belgian to consider in the fight, although his support may not be so pronounced.
Nacer Bouhanni and Jakub Mareczko are two others to consider. They aren't consistent riders but both have a very explosive sprint and so they always need to be taken into consideration in such race.
Giacomo Nizzolo is more suited for the race and is also a solid contender for the Top10, and the duo of Cees Bool and Max Walscheid is also rated as a dangerous one, after the neo-pro obtained his first pro win just a week ago in Nokere. Edward Theuns another good possibility, but it's been a while since we've seen the best of him.
The remaining quality sprinters that may have a chance are Davide Ballerini, Luka Mezgec, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Matteo Moschetti, Israel's Raim/van Asbroeck/Enger/Barbier should provide at least one of them a good chance. Bryan Coquard, Baptiste Planckaert and Pieter Vanspeybrouck finish off the list.
But as a Belgian classic the attacking factor must always be taken into account. There are lots of riders who certainly won't be content with a sprint finish. Bob Jungels will likely be Deceuninck weapon against those riders, he has been riding brilliantly over the Belgian roads this season and his one to be recognized.
EF with Sebastian Langeveld and Taylor Phinney, Luke Durbridge, Sky duo Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard, Mads Pedersen and Lars Boom are all riders AND teams that will have ideas of attacking the race and may change the course of all the sprinters present.
⭐ Kittel, Jakobsen, Nizzolo, Pedersen, Bouhanni, Mareczko, Keukeleire
Dylan Gronewegen is my call for the win. The sprint scenario is likely and the Dutch is on quite a run. We'll have certainly a great final sprint and I believe Gronewegen is the one that can take the win in the end.
Make sure to let us in on your opinion, and of course follow us on twitter for the latest updates!