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Mar 28, 2016 – In the build-up to the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde is scheduled. From 29 March until 31 March the peloton will ride across West- and East-Flanders during three stages and a time trial. Several well-known hills and cobbled sections from the spring Classics are on the course so this stage race has a rather Classics profile.
Sports director Frederik Willems says, “This race is of a higher and more international level than the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen for instance. The participants of this race all have a busy schedule in this period of the season. Some riders consider this race as their final preparation for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, others will start with the ambition to win this race. As usual, it will be a tough and nervous race.”
The first stage takes the riders from De Panne to Zottegem. Eleven hills are on the course, after 100 kilometres the riders need to cover two local laps of about 50 kilometres. Four hills are situated in each lap, among them the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Day two will most likely end with a bunch sprint. From Zottegem to Koksijde, the peloton needs to surmount five obstacles including the Kemmelberg. At the end, the riders need to cover three laps of eleven kilometres. This stage race traditionally ends with a double stage. In the morning, a sprint stage in and around De Panne is scheduled. Finally, this race ends with an individual time trial of fourteen kilometres.
Frederik Willems: “The finale of the first stage is a bit different compared to last year. The Muur van Geraardsbergen needs to be climbed two times and that will definitely determine the race. The Classics riders will certainly show themselves during this stage. Normally, stage two will end with a bunch sprint. But sometimes the wind can play an important role so there’s a chance echelons will be formed. The morning stage on the final day is always a nervous affair. If you’re not attentive, you can lose this race here. It’s also an important stage with the time trial in mind. Fourteen kilometres is a good distance to gain some positions on GC.”
“Sean De Bie will get a free role in the first stage. If a bunch sprint takes place, we have André Greipel. Also in the next two stages we can go for a sprint with André. Lars Bak and Sean De Bie are two guys who can ride a decent time trial. Whether we’re aiming for a good position on GC will depend on the first stage. After that it will depend on how the race evolves.”
Lotto Soudal will start with riders such as André Greipel and Sean De Bie. The main competitors in the sprint will be Marcel Kittel, Elia Viviani and Sacha Modolo. Also the time trialists will be present with among others Tony Martin, Taylor Phinney and Johan Le Bon. Last year, Sean De Bie was fourth in the first stage and he finished fifth on GC. This time he’ll try again to obtain a nice result.
Sean De Bie: “The previous races were very tough. During the E3 Harelbeke I didn’t have a great feeling but still I was able to do some useful work for the team. My general condition is better than last year, but I’m not in top shape yet. One race, I feel very well, the other I am less good. Sometimes that frustrates me a bit. I hope that I have the same feeling during this race as in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, where I took home the overall victory.”
“Although this race is tougher compared to the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen. It’s a very nervous affair, splits can occur after every bend. You have to be attentive at the front all the time because echelons can be formed. It’s a real fight to maintain your good position at the front of the peloton and that’s not only tiring physically, also mentally it’s tough. The Muur van Geraardsbergen needs to be climbed this year, that’s a hill which suits me. There will certainly be attempts and then you need to react. I see the first two stages as Classics because the scenario is very similar to such races.”
“Also the closing time trial is something I like, although I prefer to ride a prologue. But it’s a tortuous course and there are a lot of pace changes, that suits me. This winter we optimized my position on the time trial bike. The past few days I rested well, that’s very important during such period. I aim for a good result in this race with regard to the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. I really look forward to it.”
Selection Lotto Soudal: Lars Bak, Sean De Bie, Jasper De Buyst, Frederik Frison, André Greipel and Pim Ligthart.
Sports director: Frederik Willems and Bart Leysen.
29/03 Stage 1 : De Panne – Zottegem (198.2 km)
30/03 Stage 2 : Zottegem – Koksijde (211.1 km)
31/03 Stage 3a : De Panne – De Panne (111.5 km)
31/03 Stage 3b : De Panne – De Panne (ITT) (14.2 km)
Yesterday Jens Debusschere crashed at 80 kilometres from the finish of Ghent-Wevelgem. He was taken to the hospital of Ieper. Further examinations have shown that he has a bruise on the lower back muscles, a bruised junction between the collarbone and shoulder blade, a mild concussion and some abrasions. Whether he’ll start in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen will depend on his recovery during the coming days.