Road

Scheldeprijs preview: Wind, chaos, and crashes

Sprinters move to the fore in the hectic one-day race as the cobbled classics draw to a close.

Nestled in the heart of the cobbled classics, Scheldeprijs usually provides a brief interlude between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. With the latter on ice until October due to COVID-19 restrictions, Scheldeprijs is the last hurrah for the cobbled classics – though its pavé is pretty limited – and the field is more stacked than ever.

Flanders Classics’ description of it as a pre-eminent classic might be overselling it, but Scheldeprijs is a quirky race that almost always provides a chaotic sprint that’s not for the faint of heart.

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My first Scheldeprijs was in 2014, when the race still rolled out of the center of Antwerp. These days, the race starts in Terneuzen just over the border in the Netherlands. Before heading back to Belgium, the race route moves further north to Middleburg on the central peninsula of the Zeeland province.

The Scheldeprijs map. Image: Procyclingstats.com

The change has breathed new life into what could be a very dull race at times. Anyone who has ever been to Zeeland will know that it’s a notoriously windy area that makes an umbrella utterly pointless in the rain. The whole route is much more exposed than it used to be, and crosswinds are always a looming risk.

The contenders

Nearly every team has a strong sprinter looking for glory in Schoten so we can expect the finish to be as messy as ever. Last year’s winner, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) won’t be in attendance and the team has sent John Degenkolb in his place. Sam Bennett and three-time winner Mark Cavendish will line up for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, while UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff is the only other former Scheldeprijs winner on the start list.

Other riders to watch out for are Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix),  Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Cees Bol (Team DSM), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Marc Sarreau (AG2R-Citroën), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels) and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic).

A chaotic finish for riders — and journalists

For better or for worse, one part of the race that was never dull was the finale. With a plethora of sprinter’s teams looking to control the race, the two laps around Schoten are nearly always little more than organized chaos. Inevitably, there will be a touch of wheels or a rider overcooking a corner and a crash.

The final left-hand curve with less than 200 meters to go is particularly notorious, while the fast and sweeping bend shortly after the finish line is a nightmare for a journalist trying to nab a rider after the race. But whether you’re a journalist or a rider, you need to be quick on your toes here or you’ve lost your shot.

One of the quirkier parts of Scheldeprijs is the post-race press conference with the winner. It’s held in the press room with the victorious rider seated at a small table with a large projector in the background. By this point, the race broadcast has ended, and it’s usually an episode of the Australian soap opera Neighbours playing. It’s a weird juxtaposition at the end of a major race.

Topping off the day is the speech made by one of the workers in the press room thanking the staff for the abundance of tiny sandwiches that have fuelled the journalists. It wouldn’t be Scheldeprijs without it.