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Brabantse Pijl: Can Gilbert Be Stopped?

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The Mid-Week Classic is also the Mid-Season Swap-Out with the climbers. BMC's Philippe Gilbert thinks it's his time to shine.

De Brabantse Pijl

I'm under siege at the moment so this might be a tad curt. Still, the beauty of this site is that you guys often know more than I do anyway, so I am counting on YOU to sort through more of the favorites.

What's New?

Very little. This isn't a course that anyone wants to change.

2015 Brabantse Pijl Map

2015 Brabantse Pijl profile

It's designed to wear out people's legs, bounce them around just enough for the Flemish people to yell "KASSEIEN!" one more time (before ENECO), and to set up a fantastic battle close to the line.

What's Interesting?

Brabantse Pijl has long filled the role of the 'tweener, sorta like Flanders and sorta like the Ardennes. This point was driven home when, prior to 2010, the race was moved to its current place on the calendar, as the cobbles hardmen are packing up their stuff and the skinny climbers are arriving on flights from Barcelona. [It had been on the Sunday before De Ronde.] Its first winner in the new format, Sebastian Rosseler, is a fast finisher cut from the cobbles cloth, and two years ago Peter Sagan's win added further evidence that it favors both sides (though SuperSagan could have won anywhere). But in between Thomas Voeckler scored a win for the climbers, and Philippe Gilbert, a Belgian hybrid who can win anywhere outside of Roubaix, took two more editions.

Gilbert comes in as the favorite as a launching pad to his now-clear emphasis on the Ardennes, and frankly the race has more of an Ardennes feel to it in my opinion. The palmares still include sprinters and cobbled guys though, and if BMC don't make it a hard enough race, Gilbert won't just have those guys for company, he'll have fresh versions of them to rein in.

Oh, and one more tidbit -- Brabantse Pijl is the last chance for a Belgian to do something on home soil in the spring. A grateful nation has Jelle Wallays to thank for not getting shut out completely, but the Topsport Vlaanderen rider's Dwars victory was a while ago now. Anxiety isn't as high as it was in 2010 when Rosseler broke the national duck here and spared Belgium from complete embarassment, but it's approaching those levels. For god's sake, Cancellara wasn't even around!

Who To Watch

I'm going to toss out a few names to get started but ask you guys to add more in comments, with a case for why they may win. Apart from Gilbert, Tony Gallopin looked solid in the Pais Vasco and is a regular contender here. So too is Michael Matthews, whom we usually call a sprinter if we're being shortsighted about it. Voeckler is back for more, and the Wanty-Groupe Goubert squad features two guys -- Bjorn Leukemans and Marco Marcato -- that can be expected to challenge, along with good support. Marcato was surprisingly good at Paris-Roubaix, and if he isn't too exhausted from Sunday, this is a good event for him. But chances are he will be working to spring Leukemans, who has literally occupied nearly every place in the top ten at this race at some point, except #1.

Others?

My Pick

I'm going with Matthews. He's been fantastic, and Gilbert sometimes starts slow in his classics campaign.