It will be interesting to see who wants to win this weekend.
In Flanders, the Brabant Arrow and Flemish Prize races are tuneups for the cobbled classics, not only in that they kick off the start of Vlaamse Wielerweek (Flemish Cycling Week, or something like that), but in that they circle around to many of the bergs that make the Ronde van Vlaanderen so fun. Two great tuneup races... but for the Classics specialists, neither is the real prize. So how do guys like Boonen, Van Petegem, etc. play it?
Starting with Boonen... his performance on Wednesday demonstrates that he does have his limits, or at least there's a limit to how much he'll do in lesser races. Last year he won Prijs Vlaanderen in a long attack, a great demonstration of power. He then skipped Brabantse Pijl, and kind of coasted through Driedaagse de Panne after gashing his hand in a crash. As with this year, his goal was the Flanders-Roubaix double, which he achieved convincingly, each time riding away from the field.
Boonen is at least as strong this year, but with the rainbow jersey things aren't quite the same. To the peloton, he is THE marked man. To the fans, he's the person everyone will be watching to win. And to himself... well, who knows, but chances are he isn't assuming he'll have many more chances to win the two biggest races of the year in the World Champion's kit. Mostly, Boonen must win Flanders, it's what everyone wants. [Well, except another 200 riders, and their legions of fans, but you catch my drift.]
That kind of pressure is bound to make Boonen somewhat cautious this weekend. Bike racers rarely shy away from a challenge, or even a dangerous sprint finish, but at a minimum Boonen won't want to make too many huge efforts in a row. My hunch, founded on the best inside information available in Seattle, is that he gives it a pretty solid go on Saturday, but careful not to push it too far. The Quick Step site lists him as the man for the Prijs, sitting out Brabantse Pijl.
Interestingly, Davitamon are sending both McEwen and Van Petegem to Harelbeke for the Prijs. If Robbie is feeling OK, this might be a perfect opportunity for him to win. Van Petegem was complaining about his knee yesterday, so although he is perhaps enjoying flying under the radar a bit (compared to Boonen anyway), he will be listening to his knee before trying anything serious.
Lots of other contenders... If I had to pick a trendy alternative, it would be Philippe Gilbert. Clearly on form, he's got less to lose than the heads of state like Van P and Boonen. If the Belgian superteams play it cautious, a rider like Gilbert just might sneak away. Same could be said of other on-form stars, like Ballan, Freire, Devolder, and the two-headed Milram beast. If they're all together at the end, it should be McEwen and Petacchi duking it out.