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Before Roubaix, peloton heads to Antwerp for Scheldeprijs

The cobbled classics continue Sunday with Paris-Roubaix, however the pro peloton will first take on the 98th edition of Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen, the oldest race in Flanders, on Wednesday.

The cobbled classics continue Sunday with Paris-Roubaix, however the pro peloton will first take on the 98th edition of Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen, the oldest race in Flanders, on Wednesday.

Petacchi made it look easy in 2009.

Named for the Schelde River that runs through the start city of Antwerp, Scheldeprijs (Flemish pronunciation “Skeld-eh-presse”) translates to “Schelde Tropy,” and it’s known as the Belgian championship for sprinters.

The race was run for the first time in 1907 and is considered one of the most historically significant races in Belgium. For 2010 the race takes the mid-week spot formerly held by Ghent-Wevelgem. Beginning in the harbor city of Antwerp at the main city square, the course heads west to Turnhout and then north, passing the Dutch border, before heading south before the winner is declared in Schoten. The 205.4km race features its fair share of straightforward cobblestone sections, and finishes with three 16km closing circuits which usually end in a mass sprint.

Last year’s race, won by Italian Alessandro Petacchi, resulted in a chaotic pile-up that took down two-time winner Tom Boonen, as well as 2002 winner Robbie McEwen, who suffered a concussion and other injuries, forcing him to abandon plans to ride the Giro d’Italia.

Petacchi’s victory broke Mark Cavendish’s two-year win streak; in 2008 Cavendish famously pipped local favorite Tom Boonen at the line after Boonen celebrated prematurely. Cavendish also suffered embarrassment at that race, however, when he famously slipped and fell on the champagne-soaked podium.

Sunday’s main protagonists from the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, winner Fabian Cancellara and runner-up Boonen, will both take part, though it’s unlikely either will be willing to dice it up in the likely sprint finish.

Instead, all eyes will look to riders not expected to contend for victory Sunday, including McEwen, recent Ghent-Wevelgem winner Bernhard Eisel and his HTC-Columbia teammate Andre Greipel, Sky teammates Chris Sutton and Greg Heenderson, Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Danilo Hondo (Lampre) and Theo Bos (Cervélo TestTeam).

Bos’ teammate Thor Hushovd, who took third at Roubaix last year, has been ailing from illness and finished outside of the top 50 at Flanders; his objectives for Scheldeprijs are uncertain.

Garmin’s Tyler Farrar, who won the final sprint at Three Days of De Panne one week ago and also won the bunch sprint Sunday for fifth at Flanders, has stated that winning Scheldeprijs is a major objective, however the American crashed twice at Flanders and was unsure of what the longer-term effects might be following the race.

Another rider expected to fare well Wednesday is Milram’s Robert Förster. “The Scheldeprijs is a very flat race, so we will put everything on the finale, where there is a closing circuit with cobblestone sections,” said Ralf Grabsch, Milram’s team director. “The race is good for us. In the last years we have always played a role and if it comes to a mass sprint, we will look to Förster.”

Last year’s Paris-Roubaix runner-up Filippo Pozatto, who was forced to sit out Sunday’s Tour of Flanders because of a stomach flu, will be back in Belgium Wednesday. The Italian national champion and Team Katusha leader hoped to use the race to put some race-pace kilometers in his legs prior to Roubaix.

2009 Scheldeprijs Top 10

  1. Alessandro Petacchi
  2. Kenny van Hummel
  3. Dominique Rollin
  4. Antonio Cruz
  5. Peter Wrolich
  6. Harald Starzengruber
  7. Björn Schröder
  8. José Antonio Carrasco
  9. Bernhard Eisel
  10. James Vanlandschoot

10 previous winners of Scheldeprijs

  • 2000 Endrio Leoni
  • 2001 Endrio Leoni
  • 2002 Robbie McEwen
  • 2003 Ludovic Capelle
  • 2004 Tom Boonen
  • 2005 Thorwald Veneberg
  • 2006 Tom Boonen
  • 2007 Mark Cavendish
  • 2008 Mark Cavendish
  • 2009 Alessandro Petacchi