This will have to be a stripped down version of the one we compiled last week, given the speed at which the races come at us (and the chaos of my own life, which is a couple courses of antibiotics away from resolution). G-W Preview and Media in a separate post. Here's my baker's dozen, on the flip; add more names and submit entries as you please:
(chris) Former winner in 2004, and if he's in the finale, why not? Well, because he's hurting, and because winning here won't save Quick Step's spring, whereas winning in Roubaix will, meaning he will be holding back... if he even bothers to finish.
(chris) My favorite for the race. He showed brilliant form and fantastic teamwork softening up the bunch with a hard attack at the start of the Muur Sunday, thinning things out for Ballan's winning move. He's in great shape, and can ride the cobbles. Plus this should just about be it for his spring campaign, so he will be going for broke.
(chris) A perfect race for Pippo. Think of his biggest wins: Het Volk and Milan-San Remo. Not the most selective races, but hard by any measure. Pippo has shown an uncanny knack for late-stage heroics. If anyone can sneak away before the bunch sprint happens, and I mean just before... it's Pippo. But he'll be closely marked.
(chris) A perfect race for Oscar too, and he'll have Flecha (a near winner) in support and Graeme Brown as plan B/decoy. Rabobank will be highly motivated to keep things together for the bunch sprint. If Freire himself can cover any late breaks, or get in one to stay away, they have serious, serious chances here. But all eyes will be on him.
(Brian) Will be motivated, since I think he'll be working for Cancellara on Sunday. He could go for a sprint or breakaway win, I think.
(chris) A good race for him. Late escapes are just as common as bunch sprints, and he's an escape artist. More importantly, he's a B-lister for de Ronde and Roubaix, so his mid-week motivation will be higher than Boonen et al.
(chris) Another guy with a sprinter's pedigree who hungers for an April palmare. Plus he's on a Belgian team, lives in Belgium, married to a Belgian... you get the picture. But he has no history of success here. Best finish I can find was 25th in 2002. If he makes it into the finale, he'll be one to watch, but the winner is the guy who's least exhausted in the last KM. Not likely Robbie. OTOH, if it's not windy, move him into favorite status.
Update [2007-4-10 16:14:33 by chris]: He's still on the startlist but has been ill and may not make it to Gent.
(chris) Third last year. This is his only shot at Classics redemption. I seriously doubt he can make it, given his recent troubles, but anytime he starts a race that's routinely won by sprinters, you have to at least kick the tires on him.
(chris) T-Mob's new sprinter, and his seventh last year means he can get over the humps with the big boys. But he hasn't shown the finishing ability. Would be an upset... but not unheard-of.
(chris) Another ex-winner. Another potentially great story, considering his spring almost got devoured by a tractor. I still say if he wins anything this week, that tractor will be worth millions.
(chris) The only two-time returning winner... but the last was in 1999. It'd be an amazing story for him to get off the deck of his February crash and come all the way back for the win. If Robbie misses the finale, he could well be in the mix. The Classics favor experience.
(R Mc) dusted Petacchi at Koln. If CSC can get him to the end he has at least as much of a chance as Steels and Klier.
(DZI) Should now be one of the favourites, as Tom de bom Boonen won't be their sprinter, just helper. He'll save all his energy for Roubaix. Besides, Steegmans has won lately (De Panne) and proved to be even stronger then Boonen last Sunday. If he gets in the mix with the drag of Weylandt and Boonen, he might just fool all the big names. So should be good for a top 5 spot, IMHO.