Well, you all know the drill. No one really loves the Scheldeprijs with the possible exception of those who live in Schelde and by that I mean the actual Schelde river, not Antwerp were the race is centered. I suspect deep down inside even Antwerpians are a bit skeptical about the race but they put on a brave face and then drown their self-loathing in bollekes of De Koninck (which is a terrible terrible beer I've heard from unbiased and objective sources in Gent).
The Scheldeprijs is a race that these days gets a little too much importance and weight due to its placing in between the two monuments (a place previously held by Gent-Wevelgem). It is in essence a sprinters' classic that tries to latch onto a little bit of cobbles cred but doesn't really succeed. It is also probably the only one of the so called sprinters' classics besides Vattenfalls that truly always ends in a sprint but on the bright side it's a truly crazy crash-prone sprint for those with an intense desire to cause themselves bodily harm ...... or wait, that isn't a bright side at all is it?
Ok, after venting the standard Scheldeprijs disdain let's be a bit objective too. What it is also is a big objective for the sprinters with a superbly strong startlist and the finale is always fantastic as long as the terrible crashes are avoided. Literally* none of the big sprinters are missing this and most of them have strong teams here to support them. Some teams may be a little heavy on classics guys who are more focused on the weekends before and after but they're still strong. The fact that it so obviously for the sprinters is a quality in itself, all is focused on getting those final 15 kms perfect for the big teams, no distractions, no silly hopes of other outcomes. If you take no pleasure in sprinting then go for a ride, walk the dog or catch up on episodes of your favorite soapopera instead because there isn't even an outside chance this race is for you. What I'm saying is don't come complaining that you thought it would be something it's not. You have been forewarned.
* may be "virtually" in real life
So who's winning then?
Not Arnaud Demare at least. When I said all the sprinters are here then Demare is the exception of course after his crash on Sunday. A decision on his Roubaix participation will be taken on Thursday as he is pretty badly scratched and bruised. This should open the door for his old buddy Nacer who is.............also not here. Damn you just can't trust the French can you. I'm going to pretend he isn't here because they have such faith in the sprinting prowess of Michael van Staeyen, you can all join me in my delusion if you want. Somehow I think the combination of crashalicious Scheldeprijs and the ......eeehh ..... "extravagant" sprinting-style of Bouhanni would be a little like mixing nitro and glycerine, coke and Mentos, Costa and Barredo(and a wheel), simply not a good idea.
Instead the red-hot favorite ought to be Marcel Kittel who has won this three times and is now on an Etixx team in desperate need of raising their arms in victory. If he can't overcome Kristoff, Greipel and Cavendish then it really is a testament to how displeased the Gods of Flanders are with the boys in blue. Not that guys like Greipel and Kristoff are looking bad, quite the oposite, but this should matter so much more to Etixx than to a decimated Lotto or a Roubaix-focused Katusha. If there is one big danger for Kittel it is Etixx also being so Roubaix focused that their guys won't commit to the sprint leadout, it has been known to happen before. Perhaps the biggest threat is Elia Viviani who managed to outsprint Kittel in De Panne but it is hard to see that kind of pirate-tactics that Sky used there to get Viviani in a good enough position for Scheldeprijs. He does look to have amazing top end speed at the moment though.