Big Hitters Vying for Victory at the “Grand Prix” Words by John Wilcockson with images from Chris Auld & Getty Images

Wednesday, April 7, 2021
[MEN] Start: Terneuzen. Finish: Schoten. Distance: 194 km.
[WOMEN] Start & finish: Schoten. Distance: 136 km.

HISTORY

Although this is the oldest of the Flanders Classics, first run in 1907, it is also the least demanding, with a completely flat parcours that usually results in a mass sprint finish. Previously known as the Scheldeprijs Schoten and the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen, it has been called simply the Scheldeprijs  (“Schelde Grand Prix”) since it was acquired by Flanders Classics in 2010. It is now part of the recently created UCI ProSeries, one category below the WorldTour. For its first 80 years, the race was held in July or August, and only moved to April in 1987. The race was won 76 times by Belgians in the first century of it life; but the podium has since been increasingly dominated by other nations, and the last Belgian winner was Tom Boonen in 2006. The record holder is Germany’s Marcel Kittel (now retired), who won the race five times between 2012 and 2017. The women’s race is being held for the first time.

COURSE

In its early years, the Scheldeprijs started and finished in Antwerp. The finish was changed to the nearby town of Schoten in 1916 and has remained there ever since.  The biggest change to the event came in 2018, when the start was moved to the Dutch port town of Terneuzen, which is linked to Ghent by a ship canal. From here, the course takes a tunnel beneath the Schelde River onto the Dutch polders, some of which are below sea level. The riders enter Belgium halfway through the 198 kilometers before reaching Schoten for three laps of a flat, 17.5-kilometer finishing circuit. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, last year’s race just made 10 laps of the Schoten circuit. Both the men’s and the women’s races end with three laps of the Schoten circuit.

JOHN’S PREDICTIONS

The Scheldeprijs has seen a mass finish every year since 2005. Prevailing west winds across the Dutch polders could break up the men’s peloton in the opening 100 kilometers, but the odds are that a sprinter will win again. Perhaps that sprinter will be defending champion Caleb Ewen, though he could have stiff competition from the likes of Sam Bennett, Fernando Gaviria and Elia Viviani. Perhaps one of the veteran Dutch women sprinters, Kirsten Wild or Marianne Vos, will take their inaugural Scheldeprijs.

RECENT PODIUMS (MEN’S)

2016 1. Marcel Kittel (G); 2. Mark Cavendish (GB); 3. André Greipel (G).
2017 1.  Kittel; 2. Elia Viviani (I); 3. Nacer Bouhanni (F).
2018 1. Fabio Jakobsen (Nl); 2. Pascal Ackermann (G); 3. Chris Lawless (GB).
2019 1. Jakobsen; 2. Max Walscheid (G); 3. Lawless.
2020 1. Caleb Ewen (Aus); 2. Niccolò Bonifazio (I); Bryan Coquard (F).

This is the first year for the women’s peloton.