The Drie Daagse van West Vlaanderen consists of a prologue and two road stages and it finishes this Sunday. Mark Cavendish is in a strong Omega Pharma team and there are other Brits there too.
Belgian time trial champion Kristof Vandewalle of Omega Pharma Quick Step won the cold, windy and intermittently wet 7.0km prologue on a flat out-and-back course on the Belgian coast at Middelkerke.
Mark Cavendish is also part of a strong Omega team and the two road stages might well see Cavendish add to his already impressive list of wins this season. Cleary the Omega team has the horsepower to influence the shape of the race, placing five of their riders in the top 10 of the prologue, with Cavendish finishing a more than creditable eighth.
But there's more than just Cavendish to interest British fans, with NetApp Endura trio of Jonny McEvoy, Erick Rowsell and Scott Thwaites all on the start sheet. Following Friday's short prologue, they'll be lining up for Saturday's 175km stage and Sunday's final 181km grind between Niuewpoort and Ichtegem which includes climbs of the Zwarteberg, Rodeberg and the Kemmelberg before hitting the hilly finishing circuit.
Nevertheless, the Brits were in good spirits in a frigid Flanders with 2012 Premier Calendar champion Thwaites in particular showing decent form with a seventh in 1.1 ranked Le Samyn three days prior to the start of the Three Days of West Flanders.
Although the team had been working for Markus Eichler in the draggy, heavy finale, the German rider let Thwaites know that he didn't feel he had the legs, giving the 22-year-old Yorkshireman carte-blanche to ride for himself. In the end Thwaites managed a fine seventh in the same time as the winner, Katusha's Alexei Tsatevich.
Thwaites explained how he had scored his seventh place. "We planned to ride for Roger Kluge in the sprint as he was on good form in Qatar. However, the last 1.5km was a difficult drag and his legs went with 1km to go. I noticed that I had no team mates on my wheel so decided to wait in the wheels and have a go at the sprint," explained Thwaites, who hadn't actually raced since the Tour of San Luis in Argentina. "I had a few days off after that as I was feeling a bit run down after the long travel home. Once I was fully recovered I put in three good weeks of training."
Kluge was the best placed rider in the prologue and the team was ready to see how things unfolded. On Friday night, Thwaites explained: "The tactics for the road stages haven't been discussed yet but as Roger did a great prologue and is in 13th place on GC, we will look help him in a sprint finish. We will have to be careful, however, to ensure that we are represented in any dangerous breaks." The forecast for Flanders might have been cold, calm and dry, but with hills and cobbles on the race profile, the young NetApp Endura team will have their work cut out.
None of the NetApp riders was ever likely to set the world on fire in this prologue, but at least, unlike poor Mark Kump (Saxo Tinkoff), none of them crashed, injured themselves and was therefore forced to abandon.
Saturday's 175km stage starts from t'Zand near Bruges at 12.30 CET and finishes in Harelbeke around 16.30 CET.
Prologue, Middelkerke, 7km
1. Kristof Vandewalle (Omega Pharma Quick Step) 7km in 8-09
2. Tiago Machado (Radioshack) 8-16
3. Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma) 8-18
4. Tobias Ludvigsson (Argos-Shimano) 8-18
5. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma) 8-18
6. Stijn Devolder (Radioshack) 8-19
7. Johan Le Bon (FDJ) 8-20
8. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma) 8-21
9. Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) 8-23
10. Frantisek Rabon (Omega Pharma) 8-24
13. Roger Kluge (NetApp Endura) 8-27
73. Markus Eichler (NetApp Endura) 8-48
84. Alex Wetterhall (NetApp Endura) 8-51
90. Matt Brammier (Champion System) 8-51
95. Erick Rowsell (NetApp Endura) 8-52
107. Mark McNally (An Post Chain Reaction) 8-57
124. Michael Schwarzman (NetApp Endura) 9-01
141. Scott Thwaites (NetApp Endura) 9-07
149. Jonny McEvoy (NetApp Endura) 9-09
171. Ralf Matzka (NetApp Endura) 9-19
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