Wiggins passes first test for De Panne overall victory
Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, Milan-San Remo 2011
Sky's Bradley Wiggins is aiming for the Three Days of De Panne overall victory one year after fellow Brit David Millar won. Wiggins finished in the leaders' group today after Sky worked to pull back the escape with eventual winner André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Cycling Weekly spoke to Wiggins after the opening stage, which proved to be tougher than many riders had expected. "It was all right actually," said Wiggins. "It took a while to get used to racing in Belgium. I forgot how mad it is, to be honest. In this race especially, there are many small teams and they all want to impress, so... As the race went on, the effort wore the other guys down. In the end, it came back together for a sprint, so it's fantastic for me because for the GC, this is normally the day where it really splits."
Wiggins won the final time trial stage in the 2009 edition of the race and is looking to do the same again, following Millar's lead in 2010 when he also won overall. "Dave [Millar] did it last year, so I will try to replicate what he did. He did it a bit harder, the race split to pieces last year because of the weather."
De Panne is being raced without the use of team radios, a factor that - for once - really did contribute to how the day's events unfolded, as Wiggins confirmed. "I said to Russell Downs [Downing] at 20K to go, 'What's happening, what's going on?' You just could not keep track of what was going on in the race.
"Someone said there were 15 riders, someone said there were five. No one was sure of the time gap; it was just crazy, really crazy. That's the first time I've raced in a race like this where we did not have radios, and it's really, really difficult to keep tabs on things."
Wednesday's second stage from Oudenaarde to Koksijde could provide more fireworks. "Tomorrow, in the past, is normally a standard sprint stage, but again, you never know in Belgium," said Wiggins. "Today, though, is normally the day that really decides the GC. It arrived in a bunch sprint, but at least only half the peloton.
"In the previous years today's been the hardest stage and the second stage is a bit more of a sprint stage. That circuit at the end [tomorrow], though, it typically quite tricky. Normally, it splits at the back, so if you are well positioned, you will be all right."
With many riders using De Panne as last-minute preparation for Sunday's Tour of Flanders, it's difficult to pick out who is racing for the win. "It's so hard to know who is going for the GC here. You got the guys that are going for Flanders, who probably won't even start the time trial - [Filippo] Pozzato, [Stijn] Devolder... Then, you have the guys going for GC, guys going for stage wins. It's so difficult to predict: Pozzato had the jersey two years ago and didn't even start the time trial."
Wiggins has his eye on one man who was in today's escape - Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) - who is also a strong rider against the clock. "He's very good, he's been second in the time trial for the last two years," confirmed Wiggins. "Andriy Grivko, who was second overall last year... There are some decent rivals here, but I'll have to examine the classification after today."
Greipel wins De Panne opener from break