Preview: The route and favorites for the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne

The peloton heads to Belgium for the first in a series of one-day Classics.

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The Women’s WorldTour will make its way to Belgium for the first time this season on Thursday. Three one-day races await, starting with Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne, previously the Oxyclean Classic.

Known for its crosswinds, the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne is something of a “sprinters’ Classic.” The race has only been around for four years and three of those editions have come down to bunch sprints, with Jolien D’Hoore, Kirsten Wild, and Lorena Wiebes each taking a sprint victory in De Panne. Last year, however, Grace Brown surprised a group of fastwomen with a solo move that lasted to the finish.

Judging from the first three races of the Women’s WorldTour, a bunch sprint is the most likely outcome on Thursday, but there are still some women who will aim to spoil the party.

The Route

The route for the fifth edition of Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne is a near copy of the 2021 edition’s route, albeit with an additional four kilometers.

After starting in Brugge, the peloton will make their way southwest to the coast. The crucial parts of the race will take place on two 45.1 km circuits around the De Panne area, with the finish slightly inland from the coastline.

The profile of the course is practically irrelevant. It’s very much flat. What will shake things up is the multiple direction changes within the circuits. A tailwind can quickly mean the race is already decided when the peloton turns left, and some teams will be more prepared for echelons than others. Twice, the racers will encounter a section of road called Les Moëres, where critical moves, and heavy crashes, have featured in the past. This section is wide open; there is absolutely nowhere to hide.

The Favorites

Depending on the weather, which can of course make all the difference, odds are the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne will come down to at least a reduced bunch sprint. Because of this, it’s impossible to look past Lorena Wiebes, especially given how the race has been won in previous years.

Wiebes has been pretty much unbeatable in any kind of bunch finish this season, starting with her win at GP Oetingen. She won the second WWT race of the year, Ronde van Drenthe, against one of the other top sprinters in the peloton right now and if that wasn’t convincing enough, I’d advise you google the finale of Danilith Nokere Koerse where she not only chose the best line to the finish but made the rest of the peloton look like they were standing still as she rode to victory.

With Wiebes on the line, Team DSM will no doubt commit to keeping the race together, a tactic that has clearly worked for them in the past.

After taking a few weeks to train and focus on the racing ahead, Emma Norsgaard will return to the start line for the first time since winning Le Samyn in early March. The Danish sprinter is one of the few with the kick to beat Wiebes in a bunch sprint and is more than capable at surviving in the crosswinds.

Celebrations on the podium at Le Samyn.

After coming third to Wiebes in Drenthe and second behind her in Danilith Nokere Koerse, Lotte Kopecky is probably hungry to prove she hasn’t lost her sprint. The Belgian national champion will line up with a strong support system in Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Christine Majerus. Last year, Kopecky missed the critical crosswind split the second time the race passed Les Moëres but put in a massively impressive effort to get back into the race. She will not make the same mistake again.

Her dominant sprint at Trofeo Alfredo Binda on Saturday makes Elisa Balsamo another rider to watch. Trek-Segafredo did an incredible job riding in support of the world champion, and the win she delivered confirms that the American squad can place their trust in her. She was bested by Wiebes at Ronde van Drenthe, but it will be a different style of race on Thursday. Balsamo’s teammate Chloe Hosking has been impressive already this season and is a huge asset to the world champion in the leadout, as are Amalie Dideriksen and Letizia Paternoster.

Other sprinters to watch include Alice Barnes of Canyon-SRAM and her teammate Shari Bossuyt, who has been up and around the top 10 this season. Marta Bastianelli‘s sprinting has won UAE Team ADQ three races already this spring.

There are a few riders in the peloton who will go out of their way to make sure the race doesn’t come down to a bunch sprint. One of them is Alison Jackson (Liv Racing Xstra), who has jumped in a few key breakaways this season and would have the kick to finish it off if she managed to find a good group to get away with.

Finally, defending champion Grace Brown has to be on everyones radar, after what she pulled off in 2021, although the chances of a repeat victory in the same style are low.

CyclingTips star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Wiebes, Norsgaard, Balsamo
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Kopecky, Bastianelli
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Barnes, Jackson, Hosking
⭐️⭐️: Bossuyt, Brown
⭐️: Susanne Andersen

The ratings will be updated once the startlist has been finalized.

How to watch

Tune in to GCN+ in all territories at 3:15 CET to watch two hours of action-packed racing.

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