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Jolien D’Hoore, Lorena Wiebes, and other sprinters face off at Brugge-De Panne

Favorites Jolien d'Hoore, Lorena Wiebes, and Lotte Kopecky already have multiple podium finishes at the Belgian classic.

Women’s WorldTour racing resumes — and Belgian Classics season begins — on Thursday with the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne.

While a pure climber likely won’t be victorious on the pan-flat 158.8 km racecourse, it’s becoming more and more difficult to make predictions about which rider will win the increasingly cutthroat women’s competitions.

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The course isn’t much to write home about from a climbing perspective, with nary a bump in the elevation profile. However, wind could play a factor and spilt the race in the final 45.1 km, with the route taking on laps of the finishing circuit.

oxyclean classics brugge-de panne

One thing that makes Brugge-De Panne interesting is that in its short tenure on the women’s calendar, the same few riders have populated the podium in every edition.

In 2018, Jolien d’Hoore won the bunch sprint to take the inaugural race. The SD Worx rider would have added a second title to her name in 2020, however she was relegated for deviating from her line in the final sprint. Instead, the victory went to Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) who went into last year’s race as the clear favorite after finishing second in 2019.

Both of those riders will start at Thursday’s race with d’Hoore a good pick for the win. She’s backed by a nearly unbeatable SD Worx, including another possible contender in Amy Pieters whose 2021 season is off to a blistering start with a win at Danilith Nokere Noerse, as well as a second-place finish at last week’s Omloop van de Westhoek, when she gifted the win to teammate Christine Majerus.

All of the other riders who’ve finished on the Brugge-DePanne podium finishers will also be back for Thursday’s race. Kirsten Wild (first, 2019) and Lisa Brennauer (second, 2020) will represent the strong 2021 Ceratizit- WNT Pro Cycling squad. Brennauer in particular is one to watch after her solid second place at the Healthy Ageing Tour.

Liv Racing’s Lotte Kopecky has two third-place finishes at Brugge-De Panne, in 2019 and 2020. In 2021, the Belgian national champion has shown that she is in prime form and knows her way around the super-stacked women’s peloton. Her win at Le Samyn des Dames was sandwiched between two equally-impressive fourth-place finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and last week’s Danilith Nokere Koerse.

It’s been three years since Chloe Hosking appeared on the Brugge-DePanne podium, but don’t count the Trek-Segafredo sprinter out of contention for Thursday’s race. Spirits are high on the American squad after Elisa Longo Borghini’s dramatic long-range solo win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda on Sunday, and the team will likely be putting in a huge support system so that Hosking can shine.

Finally, Canyon-SRAM has a contender in sprinter Alice Barnes, Great Britain’s road and time trial national champ. She’s off to a strong start in 2021, with solid top-eight finishes in two stages and the GC of the Healthy Ageing Tour. Barnes has solid support in the squad with peloton veterans Lisa Klein and Alexis Ryan to help along the way.