Scores of favorites for this weekend’s clash at the Tour of Flanders will be stretching their legs in preparation this week at the Three Days of De Panne.
Starting Tuesday, the 32nd edition of the race is contested on four stages over three days on windswept course that provides a good preview of who’s on form heading into Sunday’s Flanders. The route hits such cobblestone sections as Leberg, Berendries, Stuivenberg, Eikenberg and the Tiegemberg sectors that the peloton will see on Sunday.
American squads Slipstream-Chipotle and High Road will both be bumping shoulders in the 24-team field.
George Hincapie, who became the first American to win the race in 2004, will be leading High Road while Tyler Farrar, who lives and trains in nearby Ghent, will be part of a strong Slipstream squad.
Last year’s Flanders champion Alessandro Ballan, who won at De Panne before roaring into the season’s second major classic, is the hot favorite to repeat his victory.
Most of the peloton’s top Belgian riders are expected to take the start, including Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder and Gert Steegmans (Quick Step), Leif Hoste and Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto).
The French Cofidis team, meanwhile, is skipping the race.
32nd Three Days of De Panne
April 1, Stage 1: Middelkerke to Zottegem (192km)
April 2, Stage 2: Zottegem to Coxyde/Sint-Idesbald (228km)
April 3, Stage 3a: De Panne to De Panne (119km)
April 3, Stage 3b: De Panne-Coxyde (13.7km) ITT