LIke last night's NCAA basketball championship game, the Panel of Temporary Experts battle looks like it will go down to the wire. After four events nobody is eliminated because, like last night's NCAA game, nobody is doing anything you would call "impressive". The "winnaar" of the Flanders predictions was Millsy, who called Sylvain Chavanel for second -- the only prediction by anyone which came true. Only Cancellara's third place sprint saved a lot of people from the donut. Not that anyone wants to be "saved" from a donut. Hopefully things will start looking up again soon. Here's your Scheldeprijs grid and preview...
|Edredon Browny||Tyler Farrar||Robbie McEwen||Theo Bos||0||9|
|Millsy 89||Gorka Izagirre||Seb Rosseler||Yahueni Hutarovich||4||10|
|KOM Vuelta||Tyler Farrar||Romain Feillu||Mark Cavendish||1||3|
|Rubesandbabes||Mark Cavendish||Tyler Farrar||Dennis Galimzyanov||6||17|
|JSallee||Mark Cavendish||Andre Greipel||Tyler Farrar||5||8|
|Popup Rolen||Tyler Farrar||Mark Cavendish||Robbie McEwen||1||7|
|FrenchKheldar||Mark Cavendish||Tyler Farrar||Greg Henderson||5||8|
|Margin Walker||Theo Bos||Kenny van Hummel||Borut Bozic||0||4|
|Dan Beringhele||Tyler Farrar||Theo Bos||Romain Feillu||0||2|
|Stevie Dexter||Tom Boonen||Tyler Farrar||Stuart O'Grady||0||7|
|Gavia||Gert Steegmans||Tyler Farrar||Romain Feillu||0||3|
|Chris F||Tyler Farrar||Gert Steegmans||Mark Cavendish||1||8|
Horses for Courses
The Schelderprijs... or, as hardcore cycling fans know it, "oh yeah, that sprinter's race. I wonder if there are any previews of Paris-Roubaix on Podium Café yet." The Wednesday between the Ronde and L'Enfer is hardly optimal scheduling for any race, as attention is firmly focused on the cobbled classics.
Still, through luck or good judgement, the calendar throws up a very different race on the Wednesday, attracting a different kind of racer. It is flat, fast, cobble-less and around 200km long, run over one long and three short circuits heading north and east from Antwerp. All of which is fantastic for sprinters, but leaves me little to say, in comparison with my fellow PoTE members examining the more peculiar spring races. You all know how these flat days work by now. Barring truly hideous weather, or a miscalculation on the peloton's part (whether lack-of-radio-induced or otherwise), this will finish in a bunch sprint. To win you need to be fast, well-supported, and get some degree of luck. We know who is fast and well-supported. So pick your favourite three and trust to luck.
So, what else to say? How do I justify my (ludicrous) expert tag? Well, step this way, and I will allow you to peek momentarily behind the curtain. According to our sealed orders from Chris, "you can do what you want, but people are interested in first-person stuff. Don't say why Philippe Gilbert is the favourite, say why you're picking whomever." 1. I'm not saying Philippe Gilbert is favourite (because he isn't taking part - though, frankly, I still wouldn't rule out a win). 2. First-person stuff about a sprint race? Time to smash the glass and break out the "use in case of emergency" cross-sport comparisons. I will also smash the glass and pull out my rose-coloured spectacles, that make this preview look complementary to Popup Rolen's - rather than a poorly researched knock-off of the same idea, written before I knew he was planning a statistical preview.
Horse-racing is the sport where I come closest to claiming the title of expert. Obviously, I don't ride horses, don't train horses, and don't work for a racecourse. I do, however, bet extensively and fairly well. I understand the processes of picking winners in horse racing. The (ahem) trendy method at the moment is (ahem) trend analysis. In a nutshell, you look at the most recent winning and placed horses, and identify attributes shared by all or most of them. You then (hopefully) apply a test of logic to work out if these trends are cause, effect or coincidence. Identify the causes, then go through the start list and find similar horses in this year's renewal and voila! Instant, duh, winning. Does this translate to cycling? Well, probably not, to be honest... there are too many
animals cyclists, at this stage in the season the jockeys DSs are still working on tactics, and the course and going parcours is conducive to favourites dominating. Also, even if trend analysis did work in cycling (and I haven't given up hope), this isn't a race with the strongest trends. Still, I've come this far, so allow me to humbly offer up a few trends, upon which I will base my picks. Horses Riders for courses:
McEwen - 1 win, 2 seconds, 2 thirds since 2002. Recent form: Indifferent to poor. Couple of places Down Under, a second in Mumbai. However, he tends to come good for his (adopted) home race.
Boonen - 2 wins, 1 second since 2003. Recent form: Improving. Indifferent after a win in Qatar, until he won G-W impressively two weekends ago, and finished fourth at RvV, trying to bridge to the leading three.
Farrar - Won last year. Recent form: Strong. Stage winner in Mallorca and T-A, third in G-W. Led home the first big group at RvV.
Be Dutch... Thorwalk Veneberg (or, "who?" as I think of him) was the last Dutch winner, in 2005. They've had 7/36 top threes (as many as the more numerous hosts, the Belgians) since 1999, and seven winners since 1981.
Be a favourite... I can't find a list of winner's odds (another difference from horse racing) but the winners, apart from Veneberg and Ludovic Capelle, over the past few years, have been Boonen (twice), Cav (twice), Ale-Jet, McEwan and Farrar. Cipo has won this (twice) in the past, too, and so have Frank Vandenbroek and Zabel. I suppose this is typical of all sprint races/stages, but the cream tends to rise here.
Be Anglophone... 8/36 places went to Anglophone riders... although I'm not really sure this is a useful trend. Cav and McEwen obviously skew the numbers, and Anglophone cyclists are disproportionately sprinters. Still, there it is, for what it is worth.
Be on good form... Again, hardly a surprise, especially among sprinters, to find that recent results are a strong indicator of good performances to come.
The big teams are all here, along with the riders you'd expect. Farrar defends his crown, and has excellent support, including the world champ, in his P-R tune-up (which is surely also why Cance is here). Cav and the HTC train will provide strong opposition, and other strong sprinters include Boonen, Greipel, whoever sprints for Sky (Bos Hog, probably, but Hendo is in there too and was fourth last year), Galicantspellthisov, Hutorthisich, and several others. Look, it's going to be a sprint. You can work out the contenders for yourself.
Will there be a successful break? Or hurricane/monsoon/sleet scudding over the horizon? I'm guessing no and no, but boy will I look stupid if this race finishes strung out over Northern Belgium.
1. Farrar: Because Garvelo are hungry, he's fit as a butcher's dog, he likes the course, and Hushovd's lead-out at T-A was stunning and might trump the HTC support, especially with Renshaw absent.
2. McEwen: Because he is great here, and I'd like him to have one more good finish in front of his adoring fans. The Shack support isn't dreadful, either (Hunter probably the key lieutenant).
3. Bos: Because I've painted myself into a corner with the whole trends thing, and he is the most likely Dutch sprinter. Also, hegemony.