By David Hunter
Brugge – De Panne 206km
We are back for the 2nd edition of the shortened De Panne race, I still miss the 3 days.
We do have the Monteberg and Kemmelberg to make the middle section of the race interesting, but only the weather can stop a bunch sprint.
Sunny, with only a light wind coming from the north-west. Given the wide-open roads, it could still be enough to split the bunch, a fart can cause an echelon in this part of the world. The problem is the headwind as the riders turn right and head for De Panne.
The morning break will go, but we could well see a secondary move after the Kemmelberg. As the weather looks good, it is highly unlikely that this move will be successful, but you just never know! This should really be an easy race to control and a big sprint finish in the streets of De Panne. Looking at the start list, it could well be called the sprinter’s world championship.
The race ends with two laps of the circuit in De Panne. The lap is relatively straightforward, but narrow roads will make the bunch a little nervous. In the final kilometres, we have big turns with 3km and 2km to go. That will stretch the bunch out and make positioning very important, the same is true inside the final kilometre as the last turn comes with 700m remaining.
Elia Viviani – Milan-Sanremo didn’t go his way, but the Italian returns to defend his De Panne title. Last year, he won this race without breaking sweat, it’s going to be much harder this year. Without his usual lead out train, it will be interesting to see where Jakobsen fits in, but Viviani still has Keisse, Sénéchal and Mørkøv from his tried and trusted, but he will miss Sabatini. After a couple of recent failures, he’ll be hopeful of taking a confidence boosting win ahead of his assault on the Gent-Wevelgem title.
Pascal Ackermann – his win on Friday was huge for his morale. The German had suffered in recent races, his performances were made to look worse than they were by Sam Bennett’s successes. Now he has the win under his belt, it won’t be long until Ackermann hits the heights of 2018, especially with a strong train to help. With Rüdi Selig as his final man, Ackermann knows he’ll have a huge advantage over his rivals.
Giacomo Nizzolo – the Italian took a morale boosting win in the Tour of Oman, but recent races haven’t been great. Looking at the standard of sprinters in this race, I can’t help but thinking that Nizzolo will be sprinting for a top 10 result. I hope I’m wrong, but doubt it!
Dylan Groenewegen – the best sprinter in the world? I think so. This season he won a stage in Valenciana, followed that up with a win in the Algarve, before taking two victories in Paris-Nice. 2019 has followed a similar path to 2018, the sky’s the limit for the Dutch sprinter. This race sees him without some of his usual sprint train, but it does contain Jansen and Teunissen. It will be interesting to see which role Van Poppel fills, he could be amazing in position four. This is his first race against Viviani and Gaviria in 2019, he’ll be hugely motivated to secure a big win.
Marcel Kittel – Paris-Nice would not have been good for his confidence. Hopefully he can just put that down to the bad weather and focus on a race that should really suit him. As we all know, Marcel can sometimes get lost in the closing kilometres, will his sprint train be able to save him? He’ll have Kuznetsov, Haller and Debusschere to guide, but they don’t look fast enough against some of the other lead outs, which means Kittel will have to start his sprint from slightly deeper. It is possible to still win, but it does reduce his chances.
Fernando Gaviria – with Ferrari and Consonni to help, the Colombian will be confident of challenging for the win. After starting the season with a bang, Tirreno didn’t go entirely to plan, the same goes for Milan-Sanremo. Still just 24, Gaviria will go through these periods, he can’t win all the time. He has the speed, he has the sprint train, he should be challenging for the win.
Nacer Bouhanni – oh Nacer, what’s happening to you? This could be a long and horrible season for the Frenchman, as he looks to run down his Cofidis contract. It’s not all his fault, riding for a team who don’t believe in you must be difficult.
Alfdan De Decker – another one of my riders to watch in 2019. The Belgian’s start to the season was disrupted by illness, but he’s back to full health and looking to take advantage of a leadership opportunity. Wanty don’t have a sprint train to rival some of the big teams, but De Decker is a hungry sprinter, who can handle himself in tricky finishes. Fingers crossed he gets a little luck in the closing kilometres.
The best sprinter in the world will win the race, that means another day for Dylan Groenewegen.
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