Resting between the epic strong-man contests of Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris – Roubaix, Scheldeprijs sits as a mid-week tonic to keep people’s attention piqued on the classics season, handing the reins to the sprinters to contest this prestigious race for the fastest riders. The flattest day in the saddle the peloton shall ride during this spring campaign upon the pavé and hellingen of Northern Europe, Scheldeprijs is a 202km crescendo from Mol to Schoten which finally explodes with an electric mass sprint to the line. This year’s start has been moved to Mol from Antwerp in order to honour Tom Boonen, one of Belgian cycling’s greatest icons, who will be riding today as his final race on home soil; Mol being his former hometown. It is a stressful day on the bike each year for those at Scheldeprijs, teams investing every ounce of energy into protecting their lead riders and focusing on delivering them to the finishing straight in best shape possible for the frantic finale.
Marcel Kittel is seeking to win this race for the fifth time in his career, finding this a favourable affair which plays to his strengths nicely. The German sprinter may even believe this to be his easiest edition to challenge for in recent years, as the absence of both Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff are two major hurdles cleared before the bunch have even rolled out from Mol. Kittel is the fastest rider in this race, he looks the man to beat as ever and will be supported by another strong Quick – Step squad which features Tom Boonen, Matteo Trentin, Iljo Keisse and David Martinelli to ensure he is led out at top speed.
André Greipel seems to have never really fitted well with this race, last year’s third place finish being his most impressive performance in a total of four appearances thus far. Though he is growing older, Greipel remains one of the fastest sprinters when it comes down to a head-to-head drag race on flat roads, so cannot be excluded from contention. He rode last weekend’s Tour of Flanders in aggressive style, making it possiblr that he shall arrive with greater fatigue than those who have targeted this exclusively. If the day becomes an attritional battle due to wind or rain however, then the strength of the ‘Gorilla’ will increase his chances as others tire.
Arnaud Démare will still be eager to convert his strong form this season into a prestigious addition to his palmarés before it fades, perhaps focusing more on this sprinters classic than many realise. The French rider enjoys longer races, so shall not be fearful of the distance just scraping over the 200km mark, while the terrain and potential weather conditions could combine for a harder race which diminishes the top speed of his faster rivals. The FDJ squad has developed rapidly in regards to sprint leadouts and could emerge as one of the strongest outfits late in the day.
Nacer Bouhanni did not start 2017 quite as well as many perhaps anticipated, but the Cofidis rider has looked to be returning back to a level we have become to expect from the combative sprinter. He shall be provided with total leadership of the team once again and will be confident of being protected throughout the day’s 202km route. Distance is unlikely to concern the gritty Frenchman, but he shall need another strong performance from his crucial cog in the sprint train Geoffrey Soupe, if he is to better Marcel Kittel.
Edward Theuns is certainly no pure sprinter, yet the Belgian rider has previously finished second at Scheldeprijs, losing out to the indomitable Alexander Kristoff in 2015. Last year he was first to finish behind the potent trio of Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel, the best performance possible given such strong opposition present. This season could allow him to improve once again, but it will take plenty of luck to finally secure victory for a man who does not challenge the thoroughbred sprinters much beyond this race.
Dylan Groenewegen has built upon his encouraging start to the season since the Abu Dhabi Tour, taking a podium place on Stage 5 of Paris – Nice and finishing a surprise fifth at the tough Dwars Door Vlaanderen a couple of weeks ago. Groenewegen is certainly still developing as a rider at the age of 23 years old, but his combination of great pace and steely strength is already a danger to the more experienced sprinters racing today. Victory at Scheldeprijs would be another major breakthrough for the talented Dutchman and he is certainly the one most likely to upstage the bigger names come the finish.
Others likely to feature in the final top ten classification are Timothy Dupont, Dan McLay, Matteo Pelucchi, Niccolo Bonifazio, Elia Viviani and Danny Van Poppel.
1st Marcel Kittel 2nd Dylan Groenewegen 3rd Arnaud Démare