Scheldeprijs: Where are the star sprinters?

Scheldeprijs once boasted a bevy of star sprinters on its start line, but has seen few established veterans in recent years. Why?

TERNEUZEN, The Netherlands (VN) — The midweek sprinter’s classic, Scheldeprijs, once boasted a bevy of star sprinters on its start line, but has seen few established veterans in recent years. It likely comes down to the fact that the race’s UCI ranking, 1.HC, carries fewer points than the WorldTour races that surround it. In this era where points mean everything to a team, the top riders, whether sprinter or classics star, focus on bigger goals during a busy northern classics season and save themselves when they can. Thus, many teams allow their lower-ranked riders or up-and-coming talents to have their chance.

“For sure, at this point in the classics you get tired legs and there are guys who are going to look to try to recover before Roubaix a bit more and don’t want that extra race,” Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) said. “In the past, this was a race where you could sit in the wheels pretty easy until the finish, but after that, it was all-out for the last 30km. Now it’s 200km all-out.”

The 107-year-old race, won in 2019 for a second consecutive year by rising star Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick Step) in the outskirts of Antwerp, has seen established stars celebrate in the past: Erik Zabel (1997), Robbie McEwen (2002), Mark Cavendish (2007, 2008, 2011), Tyler Farrar (2010), Alessandro Petacchi (2009), Marcel Kittel (2012-2014, 2016, 2017), and Alexander Kristoff (2015), among others.

However, in the past several seasons, the veteran sprinters have stayed away, for the most part. Two that did toe the line this year were Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and André Greipel (Arkea-Samsic). Both have lost the finishing speed they once possessed. Greipel, with 11 Tour de France stage wins, is no longer racing consistently at the WorldTour level, since he races for a French Pro Continental team.

“Where are all the top sprinters?” Greipel said. “I don’t know, you should ask them.”

Kittel, a five time winner of the race, crashed today in the finale.

Italian star Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step), who came to watch the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, skipped Scheldeprijs. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) did too. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) is racing both the Tour of Flanders and this Sunday, Paris-Roubaix, but left Scheldeprijs off his planner.

Deceuninck-Quick Step gave Fabio Jakobsen a chance, and the last two years he repaid them with a win. Meanwhile, Viviani is taking a break after Gent-Wevelgem and preparing for the Giro d’Italia.

“They probably give their young guys a chance so that’s why Viviani sits it out,” said Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data). “It’s always been a sprinters’ classic between the two monuments, so it’s a good chance for the sprinters to do a race up here in Belgium. We’ve probably seen a change with the points being so important now. We need results in every race, and gone are the days of just turning up to just roll around.”

In the past, you would also see many cobbled classics stars riding Scheldeprijs to keep the legs turning. This year, only Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) represented that group.

Finally, Scheldeprijs is known for being one of the more chaotic races. The lack of points and the danger factor combine to keep big names away.

Brit Adam Blythe (Lotto-Soudal) joked, “It’s dangerous as hell,” while recalling some of the famous crashes in recent years near the Schoten finish line.

“I reckon today is like a Qatar stage, with 700 turns,” Reijnen said. “It’s really windy out, a completely different course [since 2018]. The finishing laps are the same but it definitely has a different feel. It’s a really difficult race to control.”