With a fresh route that could shred the peloton with crosswinds off the North Sea, Scheldeprijs presents a new challenge to sprinters.

A new route across the windy flats of the Netherlands should add some spice to the midweek sprinter’s delight at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday.

Tucked in between Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the mid-week classic will start in Terneuzen and trace 125km on Dutch roads across the windy Zeeland region before returning to Belgian soil. The race stays loyal to its roots and finishes with three laps and the traditional run into Schoten.

Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) starts as the five-star favorite.

New route, new challenge

It’s a rarity that one-day races cross international borders, but organizers are hoping the new course from Holland to Belgium will add a fresh dimension to the long-running race.

“The winds should be a factor. A split in the bunch is a real possibility,” said race organizer Piet De Smet. “The arrival in Schoten and the three finishing loops remain the foundation of Scheldeprijs.”

Organizers are taking inspiration from the Tour de France route that passed along similar roads in 2015. The race split up that day and proved decisive in the battle for the yellow jersey. Buffeting winds off the North Sea could blow the peloton into tatters early on.

“I thought the classic run-up to the finale of the ‘old’ Scheldeprijs was a bit monotonous,” said Flanders Classics CEO Wouter Vandenhaute. “The wind can make it a very interesting race, with the battle starting from the first kilometer.”

There are no major climbs on the 200km route, and the several cobblestone sectors included usually do not impact the final outcome.

Scheldeprijs
Kittel made the victory look easy at Scheldeprijs 2017. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Who can beat Marcel?

Scheldeprijs is almost always a sprinter’s battle. The lurking danger of echelons could change the script, but the peloton’s fast men line up as the favorites.

Five-time winner Kittel returns as the wheel to mark. Having won five of the past six editions, the big German is the man to beat even if he hasn’t been winning much this spring. Two wins at Tirreno-Adriatico confirm that his form is building. After Scheldeprijs, he is expected to start Paris-Roubaix for the first time since 2011.

Kittel will see his most serious challenge from Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo). A winner at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, this race is the next big target on the 24-year-old’s ambitious radar.

Other speedsters include Alvaro Hodeg and Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step), Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal), and Kristoffer Halvorsen (Sky). Arnaud Démare is likely to start for Groupama-FDJ.

“I expect a different race than previous years,” Debusschere said. “I don’t say it won’t be a sprint in Schoten but there’s only a minor chance that a large group will sprint for victory, let alone the entire peloton. There’s a huge chance that the bunch will fall apart in several small groups.”

The biggest danger used to be a crash down the wide finishing straight in Schoten. Organizers added a bend in the closing kilometers a few years ago to help string out the bunch, but crashes are still common. With a rare chance for sprinters to win one of the Belgian classics, it’s usually a frenetic charge to the line with everyone believing they can win.

Groenewegen
Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was untouchable in the sprint. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne was his fourth victory this year. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Big guns cool their jets

Most of the big cobbles stars are following tradition and are not racing. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Philippe Gilbert, and Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) are not expected to race. BMC is not racing at all.

Another surprise non-starter is Elia Viviani (Quick-Step), who was second in a tearful defeat at Gent-Welgevem and second in last year’s Scheldeprijs to Kittel. He won Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne and pulled the plug on his spring campaign with a DNF at Dwars door Vlaanderen when that race blew up under bad weather and heavy attacks.

There are 11 WorldTour teams, 11 Professional Continental teams, including EF-Drapac and UnitedHealthcare among the start list.

Oldest race in Flanders

Dating back to 1907, Scheldeprijs is the oldest race in Flanders. Though Scheldeprijs six years older, the Tour of Flanders emerged as the most important race in Flanders. The race used to be held after Roubaix to officially close out the cobblestone classics. Now it’s after Flanders and before Paris-Roubaix.

Last year the race started in Mol, the hometown of now-retired star Tom Boonen. Scheldeprijs was Boonen’s last Belgian race on home soil before retiring the following weekend at Paris-Roubaix.

Tyler Farrar is the only American winner of Scheldeprijs in 2010.