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Is the Scheldeprijs course safe?

With a history of crashes near the finish line, the final run-in at Scheldeprijs was altered for the 2016 edition.

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SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — The Scheldeprijs is unofficially called the sprinters’ world championship, but it is also known for its crash-marred final sprints. The race organizer is trying to improve safety for its race Wednesday.

Instead of a straight shot into the Antwerp suburb of Schoten, organizer Flanders Classics is hoping to slow the speeds down and stretch the peloton into a single-file line by adding two right angle turns.

“We will see how it will work out, it’s hard to tell,” three-time winner Marcel Kittel of Etixx – Quick-Step said before the cold and cloudy start in Antwerp.

“It’s definitely different now, in the final 1.5 kilometers you have to be in the front, if you are not there then there is no space to move up. On one hand, we had crashes before because everyone could still come to the front, on the other hand, your chances can be gone already at that point if you are not there.”

With 2km to race in the 208km mid-week classic, the road diverts from the former course and gently bends to the right. Just before the red kite, it turns 90 degrees to the right and 90 degrees to the left only 200 meters later. The final 800 meters to the Aankomst, or finish, run on the Churchilllaan, as in 2015.

“The bunch will reach that spot after going through a narrowing road and several additional curves,” said the organizer. “As a consequence [of the turns], the riders will launch the sprint in a single line. Basically that should allow for a safer finish.”

The organizer also slashed the number of participating teams from 25 to 22, bringing the number of riders down from 200 to 176.

The change is welcome after years of crashes.

Sky’s Elia Viviani rolled several times across the road in 2015 and remained on the ground nursing his arm while Norwegian Alexander Kristoff of Katusha celebrated his victory.

“Why so many crashes? Many guys think they can win because they have fresh legs, it’s mostly because of that,” Kristoff said last year. “The race is not as hard as the others, so there are many fresh legs for the finish and everyone wants to try.

“I don’t think it’s more dangerous than the other races are. It’s the riders, not the race, that makes it dangerous.”

Australian Jonathan Cantwell suffered a punctured lung when a group of cyclists crashed into photographers on the other side of the finish line in 2012. Cyclists had also crashed 2km before the line. Wouter Weylandt fell in the 2011 Scheldeprijs weeks before his death in a Giro d’Italia crash, Alessandro Petacchi crashed in 2009, and Ludovic Capelle did so in 2003.