A cobbled classic that features a relatively small amount of cobbles and next to no climbing, it’s hardly surprising that Brugge-De Panne has come to be known as a race for sprinters.
An aperitif for the so-called ‘Holy Week’ in the Flemish region of Belgium, which encompasses a series of tough cobbled races and culminates with the Tour of Flanders, Brugge-De Panne represents a chance for teams to acclimatise to the Flemish region in Spring. The race traverses the flat lands towards the coast and contends with the accompanying crosswinds.
This year the race takes place over a three-day period, in keeping with the traditional ‘Driesdaage’ title, with the men’s race falling on Wednesday 23rd March and the women’s race the following day, on Thursday 24th March.
Beginning in the historic city of Brugge (Bruges), the race takes place entirely in West Flanders, working its way from the city towards the coastal town of De Panne. The men will ride 207.9km, which will include three and a half laps of the De Panne circuit, around the towns of Koksijde, Adinkerke and Veurne. The women’s route is 162.8km and also includes loops of the De Panne circuit. Women's route (Credit: Brugge de Panne website)
Despite having a relatively flat profile, the location of the race makes it susceptible to high winds. If crosswinds hamper the peloton’s progress and there is the chance of echelons, sprinter’s teams will need to remain vigilant and ensure they stay towards the front of the bunch.
Men's route (Credit: Brugge de Panne website)
The weather played a decisive role in 2020’s edition with grim conditions forcing echelons from early in the race, and eventually allowing Yves Lampaert to surge clear of a significantly reduced bunch to secure a late breakaway win – one of the few in the race’s history. That was in October though, and the Belgian Spring has been favourable thus far so may not cause too many issues.
For the men, Quick-Step AlphaVinyl will hope to add a victory to what has been a quiet opening to the season, by their high standards. Mark Cavendish is in excellent form this season, add in top lead-out man Michael Mørkøv and the Belgian team will be favourites to take victory on home soil.
Another Belgian team with irons in the fire are Lotto Soudal, who bring young hopeful Arnaud de Lie who has already proven his credentials this season, beating the likes of Juan Sebastian Molano and Giacomo Nizzolo at the Trofeo Playa de Palma earlier in the season.
BORA-Hansgrohe will look to defending champion Sam Bennett to take the first win of his 2022 campaign. The 2021 edition was Bennett’s first one-day race victory and remains his only one to date.
Alpecin-Fenix’s top sprinter Tim Merlier, by contrast, already has a clutch of one-day wins under his belt, and all of them have come on Belgian soil. With a win a week earlier at Nokere Koerse, Merlier will be confident as he comes to this race.
Team BikeExchange Jayco’s late acquisition of Dylan Groenewegen from Jumbo Visma will give them a good shot at victory. Jumbo Visma’s 20-year-old sprinting star Olav Kooij will seek to achieve the first World Tour level win of his career for the Dutch side in Groenewegen’s stead.
Groupama FDJ’s Arnaud Démare has come close a number of times this season, most recently on the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, and a win would go a long way to rebuilding his confidence after a poor run of form in 2021.
On the women’s side, Team DSM’s Lorena Wiebes has the undisputed fastest finish in women’s sprinting right now. She has proven she can handle herself over the cobbles and will be one of the favourites on the day, having proven her ability to win the race already in 2020. DSM also have promising young rider Charlotte Kool among their ranks, should Wiebes have a rare bad day.
Arguably the signing of the season, Team SD Worx’s Lotte Kopecky proved too strong for Annemiek van Vleuten at Strade Bianche, and her team are capable of dictating the race at Brugge-De Panne and delivering her to the final for a sprint or allowing her to launch a late attack.
Trek Segafredo will look to World Champion Elisa Balsamo to secure her third win of the season. The Italian stormed to victory following an outstanding team performance at Trofeo Alfredo Binda last weekend so will be confident ahead of De Panne. UAE Team ADQ’s top sprinter Marta Bastianelli has also had a good season so far and could be in with a shout of victory in Belgium.
Grace Brown was last year’s victor, in a race that was won from an attack rather than a sprint for the first time in its short history. Alongside Clara Copponi, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitane Futuroscope have a couple of strong options for the final.
Canyon//SRAM’s Shari Bossuyt, Valcar – Travel & Service’s Chiara Consonni and Marjolein van ‘t Geloof of Le Col-Wahoo all represent outside chances for victory if the race does come down to a sprint. Alternatively, Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard and SD Worx’s Chantal van den Broek-Blaak are both capable of launching attacks and heading off the predicted fast finish.
Assuming the crosswinds don’t cause too much havoc and the expected bunch sprint manifests, this race is as tough to call as any other bunch finish. However, with a top team riding in support of him and an impressive finish at Milano-Torino recently, it’s difficult to see past Mark Cavendish adding to his ever-growing palmares.
The women’s race will be a battle royale between the big hitters of sprinting. Lorena Wiebes has looked untouchable so far though, taking three wins already this season, and with a sprint finish highly likely, we’re backing her to claim the victory.