The 3-day race that is now a one-day race gets a women’s edition. De Panne arrives in the Women’s World Tour calendar for the first time and on paper it should give the sprinters a good chance at success.
Let’s have a look at what is exactly in store for them tomorrow.
A day by the coast awaits the riders along a pretty much pan-flat course.
It’s a shame that there is only one section of cobbles for the riders to tackle and given that they come pretty early, I can’t see them playing any major part in the outcome of the day.
At just over 15km long the final circuit takes in both the towns of De Panne and Koksijde along with some of the other surrounding areas.
There’s not much else of note about the route!
So a sprint finish then? Well…
It just so happens that De Panne passes through one of my favourite areas in cycling; De Moeren. An area famed for flat land, open fields and strong winds. That can only mean one thing; echelons!
Of course though, that requires the wind to play ball and going by the forecast it certainly seems like it will tomorrow.
A strong and consistent wind throughout the day coming from the West, the riders will have to be alert on their way from Brugge to De Panne as the road constantly twists and turns. Being unattentive at the wrong moment could see you suddenly spat out the back as the race gets battered by a strong crosswind and you’re too far down the pack to deal with it.
Just before we reach the circuit for the first time, the riders will cycle through one of my favourite regions in cycling; De Moeren.
Almost 3km of dead-straight, wide-open Belgian farmland. Given the wind conditions it is not a case of if the race will split here, it is by how badly will it split? Some riders will see their chances of a good result on the day gone here.
Once onto the circuit the wind will come at the riders from different directions depending on where they are on the course and they do get some protection from buildings etc. However, there are still two locations that are fairly open that can cause splits in the wind.
The 1km section of Noordhoekstraat that heads South (which ends with roughly 6.8km to go) is one possible place. However, once they turn right and continue West they will face a strong headwind which might cause things to slow down. Nonetheless, if everyone is on their last reserves by then it will only be the strongest riders at the head of the race so chasing it down will be tough.
The second section is also 1km long (Langgeleedstraat) but more importantly, it ends with only 3kms of the day left and the riders will have almost another kilometre of tailwind to gather their breath afterwards.
There will be a bit of a cross-head wind as they enter the final 2kms but by then I expect the damage to be done.
I’ll be shocked if we see a big bunch sprint tomorrow, I’m expecting 20 riders or less and to be honest, it will be closer to 10 I think. Which then means a late attack from a strong rider might stick too, it just depends on who is represented at the head of the race in the closing sections!
As is always the case with women’s cycling, the organisers can’t seem to keep an up-to-date start list so I might miss some riders out here that actually are racing, or I might mention someone who isn’t here!
Fresh off the back of a win in Ronde van Drenthe, she’ll arrive here as Boels’ leader for the race. As a Dutch rider, it goes without saying that she is strong in tricky conditions like this and she’ll hope to make any split that goes. A good sprinter after a tough day, many people will not want to take her to the line. Majerus will no doubt be in an attacking mood as well and she’s another to keep an eye on.
The Australian is maturing into one of the better classics riders in the peloton and she forms part of a strong Mitchelton Scott team at this event. In Ronde van Drenthe she worked tirelessly to try to set up her team-mates but also managed to spend some time attacking off the head of the bunch. With her form on the up, she will want a good result here. Mitchelton have the luxury of also having D’Hoore among their ranks who is also an incredible one-day Belgian racer, not to mention they’ll both have the help of Allen, Crooks, Williams and Spratt; a strong outfit! I’d be surprised not to see them featured at the pointy end tomorrow.
Like Mitchelton, Sunweb have an embarrassment of riches here at this race and it’s hard to know who their leader might be and I imagine they’ll just play it as it comes tomorrow. Mackaij has had a strong start to the year finishing in the top 10 of her last four races, including a win in Westhoek. She’s a tenacious Dutch rider who is at home in bad conditions but she also packs a good sprint from a reduced group. Of course Sunweb also have Rivera who will be their go-to if she’s there in the finale and then they also have Brand and Van Dijk too. The latter normally goes very well in this type of race and she recently won Hageland solo; will we see something similar tomorrow?
A name that would be at the front of this race more often or not, it is hard to know where her form is at the moment due to a DNF in Drenthe. She started the season off slowly in Setmana, only picking up a 2nd place on one of the stages. She could win it or could come 80th!
I have to include the winner of Le Samyn in this list! Ensing was super strong that day in some tough conditions and no doubt she will be looking forward to something similar tomorrow. Alé bring a fairly solid outfit and I would expect the likes of Hosking, Knetemann and Bastianelli to go deep into the race with the former obviously hoping to take a sprint victory after being so close so far this season.
Other names to conjure with include Cordon (Wiggle), Cromwell (Canyon), Andersen (Hitec), Koster (Waowdeals), De Jong (Experza).
The race will be blown to bits, quite literally, in the wind tomorrow and there is no way that I can see the predicted bunch sprint that you would assume just if you had looked at the profile.
Mitchelton and Sunweb have the strongest teams here and they’ll hope to use numbers to their advantage and I would be surprised not to see them actively near the front. Given the windy conditions that are forecast, it will be very difficult to hold things together in the final laps of the circuit around De Panne.
It just screams Van Dijk solo attack/win to me!
The latter part of the race will be shown on Belgian TV and on the Eurosport Player which is great news! You’ll able to follow on twitter via #UCIWWT and #Driedaagse before then.
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint in the end or will the weather wreak havoc over the peloton? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.