By Nigel Wynn
Crosswinds are expected to play a significant part in dictating the action during Wednesday's Scheldeprijs, after the race's organiser revamped the route heavily for 2018. Defending champion Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) conceded that the new course is "not going to be easy".
Now, the flat 200.4-kilometre race includes a 125km stretch in the windswept countryside of Zeeland before its traditional fast finish in Schoten, Belgium.
Should the winds blow from the North Sea – as they are predicted to – then the peloton could be broken up into echelons. Teams will have to be wary of positioning throughout the entire race to guide their sprinters to the finish in the first group.
"With the renewed route through the province of Zeeland, we have chosen a route with a lot of attraction, one where an early split of the peloton is one of the possibilities," said race chairman Piet De Smet.
"That's what the passage of the Tour de France in 2015 proved to us. We have seen there what the wind can do."
The Grand Départ of the 2015 Tour de France took place in Utrecht, with stage two running to Zeeland. On paper, the stage looked like a straightforward flat, sprint stage but the winds broke up the bunch, with a second group coming home nearly one and a half minutes behind stage winner André Greipel.
Flanders Classics CEO Wouter Vandenhaute is evidently hoping for the same thing to happen in the Scheldeprijs, which he says has become 'monotonous'. German sprinter Kittel has won five of the past six editions.
"Me myself, I thought the old run-up to the finale of the 'old' Scheldeprijs was a bit monotonous," said Vandenhaute.
"That will be different now. The wind can make it a very interesting race with battle from the first kilometres on. I'm a big believer of this new concept."
Kittel himself said that the new route could provide a tough challenge.
"When it goes through Zeeland it's not going to be easy," said Kittel. "It's always windy there. I took a look at it, and there are some small roads... it's going to be interesting. For sure, there will be a moment where we have echelons - you almost can't avoid it there.
"So, we need to stay together as a team and see how well we can sit in the first group with as many riders as possible and then make it to the last lap."
Lotto-Soudal's Moreno Hofland summed it up in a Tweet: "So they made the easiest race of the year probably one of the hardest."
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