Cyclists are preparing for the Tour of Flanders this Sunday, some racing the Three Days of De Panne and some training on the course.

“We’ve already did it a few times,” Omega Pharma-QuickStep sports director, Tom Steels said. “If you’ve never done it, then you don’t know what it’s like to do the Kwaremont three times and the Paterberg three times.”

The team’s leaders, Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel, are taking different routes. Chavanel is racing in De Panne, but Boonen is training. Of the top favourites, only Chavanel and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) are racing in the three-day stage race.

Sagan won the opening stage, but gave up the race lead yesterday. He said, “I’m just here for training.”

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Kristoff wins De Panne morning stage

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the morning leg of the Three Days of De Panne today on Belgium’s coast. He beat André Schulze (NetApp) and Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) in the sprint and defended his race lead ahead of the afternoon time trial.

“This is first time I’ve raced well in Belgium,” he said after the stage. “I suffered here last year, but I’m feeling better this year. I’m happy with my form and how things are developing.”

The Norwegian Champion finished seventh last year behind Mark Cavendish in the Olympic test event in London. Cavendish won the same De Panne stage in 2009, which finished on cobbles in the centre of town.

“I did it in 2010 and I remember the cobbles. We also saw it one time before the finish line,” Kristoff explained. “Sprinting on cobbles not easy, but I felt strong and the team did good effort to bring me to front.”

Denis Galimzyanov won in the Three Days of De Panne last year, but today led out for Kristoff. He said that he is still recovering from a cold.

A handful of TT riders are hoping to win this afternoon’s stage and the overall. Two years ago, David Millar won.

“I’m nervous but will give it all I have,” Kristoff said. “I don’t’ have much time over the TT specialists.”

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Flanders odds

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) tops most bookmakers’ sheets with 2.5:1 odds. Boonen sits just behind him.

Sagan, Chavanel, Matti Breschel (Rabobank) and Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) are outside bets.

“Everyone in the Garmin team,” Vanmarcke said, “Has confidence and believes in me.” He won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February, on day before Cavendish’s win in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Odds

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) – 2.5:1

Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) – 2.75:1

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) – 8:1

Sylvain Chavanel (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) – 14:1

Matti Breschel (Rabobank) – 22:1

Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) – 25:1

Gilbert races Flanders

BMC Racing will field Philippe Gilbert for Flanders despite the Belgian not being at his best.

The team said in a press release, the “roster includes past winner and world road champion Alessandro Ballan (2007) and previous podium finishers Philippe Gilbert (3rd in 2009, 2010) and George Hincapie (3rd in 2006).”

Gilbert suffered through and eventually abandoned the Flanders warm-up, E3 Harelbeke, and spent most of the day at the back in Ghent-Wevelgem.

“I’m far from my best,” Gilbert said to Belgian media. “I’ll need a miracle to be competitive.”

Gilbert ruled the races last year, taking wins in three Ardennes Classics. Ballan will also race despite being named as one of 32 riders over night who are due to face trial in the Mantova investigation in Italy.

Cavendish unlikely for Scheldeprijs

Mark Cavendish celebrated his first professional win in Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen in 2007, but this year will likely skip it to welcome the birth of his daughter.

“Team Sky put Cavendish on the reserve list,” organiser Peter De Smet told Sporza. “His girlfriend is expecting on April 5, the day after the Scheldeprijs. Cavendish is fast, may his girl arrive quickly too and he can race!”

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