Classic Brugge-De Panne: Mark Cavendish in spotlight, Balsamo-Wiebes in rematch

Now a pair of one-days, the races in West Flanders kick-start a busy racing period across Belgium.


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Classic Brugge-De Panne
Route: Brugge to De Panne, Belgium
Men’s race: Wednesday, March 22, 212.9km
Women’s race: Thursday, March 23, 169.7km
Defending champions: Tim Merlier, Elisa Balsamo

Formerly known as the “Three Days of De Panne,” it ran from its founding in 1977 as a stage race with a time trial across three days of racing along the windy west coast of Belgium.

Since 2018, it changed its name to Classic Brugge-De Panne and its format to a one-day race, with a men’s and women’s race contested across two days.

Mark Cavendish will be racing his first Belgian classic with Astana-Qazaqstan, and Chloé Dygert is on a preliminary start list to make her season debut with Canyon-SRAM, but officials said Monday that is not yet confirmed.

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Both races start in Brugge and end in De Panne along the open west coast. The threat of crosswinds and splits in the peloton are a danger, yet the race typically ends in a bunch kick after a string of finishing circuits.

The race puts the Belgian classics period into overdrive. All the big names are coming off Milan-San Remo and Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and are making tracks for Belgium for a few weeks of intense racing.

Sprinters lead the favorites list

Merlier won last year but isn’t back to defend his men’s title. (Photo: DIRK WAEM/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

Since switching to a one-day race in 2018, sprinters have ruled the roost in the men’s race.

The women’s race debuted the same year, and every edition ended in a bunch kick, except in 2021 when Grace Brown fended off the bunch by seven seconds in a late solo move.

With a flat course, and only wind to do any real hard, the race sets up nicely for the fastest in the bunch.

All eyes will be on Astana Qazaqstan to see if the team can deliver Cavendish to the red kite in good position.

So far in 2023, Cavendish has only contested one sprint with third in the opening stage of the UAE Tour last month.

Team officials confirmed to VeloNews his spring racing calendar is still to be finalized. With the Tour of Turkey rescheduled next month, Cavendish will be looking for some additional race days before heading to the Giro d’Italia in May.

Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal Quick-Step) tops the favorites list in the men’s race. Defending champion Tim Merlier is not racing, so the Belgian team will be looking to put its classics program on track with a win.

Dylan Groenwegen (Jayco-AlUla) and Jasper Philipsen (Alepcin Deceuninck) might have something to say about that.

Balsamo, Wiebes to face off

Wind can be a factor in both races. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

The women’s race Thursday should see a duel between Balsamo and Lorena Wiebes, a winner in 2020.

Last year, Balsamo edged Wiebes in an intense day of racing. Second at Trofeo Alfredo Binda on Sunday to lead home the bunch behind her teammate, the Italian will be keen to deliver what would be her third win in 2023.

Wiebes will have SD Worx at her service and looks to confirm her speed going into the major Belgian classics. After leaving the UAE Tour with “only” one stage win, she won two races and finished second in two more over the past few weeks, and finished 18th on Sunday.

Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ), a winner at Le Samyn, will be another favorite, while Dygert penciled in to make her season debut at Canyon-SRAM Racing.

Dygert appears on a preliminary start list, but Canyon-SRAM officials told VeloNews her start in what would be her season debut is not yet confirmed.

Dygert, who only raced one day on the road in 2022, is hoping to put a litany of health issues in the rearview mirror.

Rain, wind on the horizon

Wind can rip up the peloton, coupled with rain and cold.

Forecasters are calling for cool temperatures in the mid-50Fs, with a high chance of afternoon showers, and southwesterly winds up to 15mph on both race days.

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