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Scheldeprijs preview: Boonen to back off in sprinters’ semi-classic

Farrar, Greipel, Chicchi among favorites for race's 100th edition

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ANTWERP, Belgium (VN) — Tom Boonen aims to push towards Paris-Roubaix on Sunday and avoid any risks tomorrow in the Scheldeprijs.

“I’m not going for the win,” the team Omega Pharma-Quick Step cyclist said today in an hour-long press conference. “Its place on the calendar, between two big races, requires that I avoid any risks. I’ll be riding at the front just to avoid crashes. Francesco Chicchi is our man.”

On Sunday, after E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem, he won his third consecutive race in the Tour of Flanders. The Scheldeprijs, this year celebrating 100 editions, offers a perfect training stopover for Boonen on the way to Paris-Roubaix.

Boonen won the race twice, in 2004 and 2006, but that was before it was wedged between Flanders and Roubaix. In 2008, Mark Cavendish narrowly beat him when he started his celebrations early. It was Cavendish’s first of three wins in the race.

Team Sky’s world champion is skipping the race to be at home with his girlfriend, Peta Todd, who is expecting the couple’s first baby. He wrote on Twitter that he’s busy shopping for baby items and that he’s enjoying “exciting times.”

Last year, Cavendish matched Piet Oellibrandt’s record of three Scheldeprijs wins. He sprinted ahead of Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) in Schoten after 200 kilometers. Tyler Farrar missed a second win when he crashed in the final 300 meters.

Despite struggling for results through the early months of the year, Farrar is once again a favorite with Chicchi, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano). The American has team Garmin-Barracuda’s Robert Hunter, Alex Rasmussen and Koldo Fernández to help for the sprint finish.

“I don’t need the Scheldeprijs to prepare for Roubaix, but it is one of my favorite races,” added Boonen, who lives near Antwerp. “It’s the only race on home soil for me. I can’t be absent. I want to race in front of my fans.”

The race starts in Antwerp, heads north towards the Netherlands and back south to its finish in Schoten. It rounds the city three times on a 16.4km circuit and finishes after 202.2 kilometers. Besides last year, crashes marred the 2003 and 2009 editions.

“It was a shame to have the crash in the final kilometers,” race director, Ronald De Witte told VeloNews. The frightening crash in the 2011 finale involved Farrar and Wouter Weylandt, who died last year in the Giro d’Italia.

“We could make the race longer and harder to avoid so many cyclists grouped together heading into town, but we don’t want to do that, we don’t want to make it into a Tour of Flanders,” said De Witte. “This is a sprinters’ race and we want it to stay that way.”

Cavendish said last year after the crash that there are many second-tier sprinters who “want to have a go,” but “you can’t give them shit for trying.”