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The Three Days of De Panne marks the final stop before Sunday's Tour of Flanders. Jeff Jones preview

The Three Days of De Panne marks the final stop before Sunday's Tour of Flanders. Jeff Jones preview
PIC © TIM DE WAELE Three Days of De Panne: Last effort before Flanders Belgian cycling's 'holy week' moves to its next plane today with the 31st edition of the Three Days of De Panne (April 3rd-5th). The three-day, four-stage race is the final warm-up before Sunday's Tour of Flanders. Most of the favourites for Flanders will be in action in De Panne, although many will be keeping their powder dry for Sunday. The defending champion is Leif Hoste, but the Predictor-Lotto man is still suffering after his crashes in Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. "Hoste should improve from day to day," said team director Herman Frison to the Belgian media. "He is still suffering with his back. Hopefully it won't get worse, especially with a view to the Tour of Flanders." Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is in top form coming into the race, and he may be up for a stage win in one of the sprinters stages. But he and the Quick.Step team will also be wary of the crashes that change the fortunes of many classics riders during the race. "I hope that I stay upright in the Three Days of De Panne, that I will ride 'low profile'," Boonen told the Belgian media. Discovery Channel has 2005 winner Stijn Devolder in its line up, and the feisty Belgian could be up for a repeat of his victory two years ago. Lampre's Alessandro Ballan is not quite at his level of last year, and he may be assigned leadout duties for sprinter Daniele Bennati. T-Mobile's Andreas Klier will be back, broken cheekbone and all, with the hope of regaining his form by Sunday. Roger Hammond and Bernhard Eisel also form part of T-Mobile's line-up. "Andreas is feeling fit again and he has requested a starting slot," said directeur sportif Rolf Aldag. "The next few days will allow him to get race miles into the legs." Other riders to watch include Saunier Duval's David Millar in the final TT, and Juan Antonio Flecha, who might have a tilt at the overall. The race starts with a 192km stage from Middelkerke, on the west coast of Flanders, to Zottegem. It's considered the most difficult road stage due to its mixture of cobbles and climbs, and usually has a strong influence on the final classification. The riders reach Zottegem after 118km, then do two 37km laps to finish. There are 12 climbs during the stage, including the Leberg, Berendries, Eikenmolen and Stuivenberg on the finishing circuits. There is also the 2km cobbled Haaghoek, which has to be ridden three times. Typically, a small break gets clear on the local laps, but sometimes this stage finishes in a bunch sprint. Stage 2 on Wednesday is the longest of the race at 227km. The race heads from Zottegem back to the coast, finishing in Koksijde/Sint-Idesbald. Like stage 1, it's split into an in line section of 188km and three 13km finishing circuits. There are only three climbs and they come in the first 50km of the stage, which usually leads to a bunch sprint in this leg. The third day is split into two with a flat 119km morning stage around De Panne that includes the Monteberg, Rodeberg and Vidaigneberg, but no Kemmelberg. The organisers scrapped the latter climb following protests that it was too dangerous. But it may be reinstated in future editions of the race, possibly ridden from the other side. In the afternoon, the riders will finish off with an 11km time trial between De Panne and Koksijde. It's flat but technical, and a strong ride here usually wins the race overall. Teams: Predictor-Lotto, Quick.Step-Innergetic, Bouygues Telecom, Discovery Channel, Saunier Duval, Milram, Liquigas, Franaise des Jeux, Rabobank, Lampre-Fondital, Astana, T-Mobile, Unibet.com, Landbouwkrediet, Chocolade Jacques, Wiesenhof, DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed, Tenax, Acqua&Sapone, Navigators, Intel, Tinkoff, Panaria, Jartazi. Stage list Stage 1, April 3rd: Middelkerke - Zottegem (192 km) Stage 2, April 4th: Zottegem - Koksijde/Sint-Idesbald (227 km) Stage 3a, April 5th: De Panne - De Panne (119 km) Stage 3b, April 5th: De Panne-Koksijde individual TT (11 km) Bells will toll for Belgian Flanders winner Cycling's status in Belgium is showing no signs of diminishing. Should a Belgian win the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, 150 parish churches will toll their bells for three minutes at 17:01. The idea was thought up by Luc De Cooman, the owner of the caf Pallieter in Sint-Lievens-Houtem. "Firstly, the idea was just to have the 64 parishes that the peloton passed through take part," he told Sportwereld. "But it would have more impact if we could expand the action to the districts of Aalst and Oudenaarde. That comes to 164 bells." De Cooman is predicting another Tom Boonen victory on Sunday. If that comes to pass, then Boonen's demigod-like status in Belgium might need an upgrade. Mayo and Gil lead Saunier in Pais Vasco Iban Mayo and Koldo Gil will be the leaders of the Saunier Duval team in the upcoming Vuelta al Pais Vasco (April 9th-14th). Both have ambitions on the final classification, and will examine the last two stages of the race on Wednesday. They will be accompanied by Iker Cama¤o, Juan Jos Cobo and David de la Fuente. Jalabert to attempt Ironman French ex-professional Laurent Jalabert will try his hand at an Ironman triathlon this June. The 38 year-old JaJa will take part in the Zurich Ironman: a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.1km run. Since retiring from cycling in 2002, Jalabert has kept active and has completed several marathons. Got a comment? Discuss this in the Procycling forum. What else is new? Check out the Procycling blog.
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