AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne: the spirit of “Three days” in a frequently changing format

The story of the AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne may be short but it’s packed with significant changes over the years. The original formnat of “three days” changed to one day in 2018. However, the three days – Driedaagse in Dutch – has remained in the event’s official name and the soul of the competition: to keep the multi-day spirit intact, the women's race was inaugurated two years ago, attracting the best riders to West Flanders.

Originally scheduled for 25 and 26 March 2020, then moved to autumn in the revised calendar due to Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s edition is now set for 20 October for women and the following day for men, making it the last appointment of the Flemish Classics, calling out the fastest wheels for a very likely final bunch sprint in both competitions. For the men it will also be the last one-day race of the UCI WorldTour after the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix, adding further depth to an impressive start list.

Curiously, the first edition of AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne was held from 21 to 24 March 1977 with five events spread over a four-day format. It was an ideal lead-up to the Tour des Flandres, involving all the traditional challenges of the Flemish roads such as cobbles and strong wind. All the races either started or arrived in De Panne and the event was divided into an 8.9km individual time trial (ITT) prologue in town followed by two hilly stages going first to the Flemish Ardennes and then coming back to the seaside. The final day of racing was divided into two, with a road race stage followed by an ITT. The first winner was the Belgian Roger Rosiers.

Moving from late March to early April and following the Tour des Flandres, the Dreidaagse was usually held from Tuesday to Thursday before the Sunday’s Ronde. Starting from the second edition in 1978 – which did not include an ITT and was won by the Belgian Guido van Sweevelt – the race was held over three days, alternating multiple different formats:  originally more often with two road stages and one final ITT,  or two split-stages (road and ITT) and two road race stages, such as in 1982 when the Dutch rider Gerrie Knetemann claimed victory.

It was even possible to race five stages in three days. In 1990, the first day was divided into two (road race and time trial) before a “normal” second day then a last day again split into two with two small road races. Dutchman Erwin Nijboer proved to be the strongest that year. In 1993, Belgian Eric Vanderaerden won an unprecedented edition with two double days (road and ITT). Starting from 1994 with the victory of the Italian Fabio Roscioli, the format settled on two road stages followed by a final day featuring road and ITT split-stages. This format was consistent up to 2017 when another Belgian, Philippe Gilbert, took the honours.

The big change happened in 2018 with the move from three days to one day, on an almost completely flat route. There are only around 200 metres of elevation gain across its distance of just over 200km, starting from Brugge and finishing in De Panne with a final circuit offering a winding route with several direction changes, roundabouts, bridges and other obstacles. Italy’s Elia Viviani won in 2018 and the Netherlands’ Dylan Groenewegen in 2019.

To keep the multi-day spirit alive, the women’s AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne debuted in 2018, and was raced the day after the men, also on a flat route. Both editions so far have ended in a bunch sprint with victories going to the Belgian Jolien D'Hoore and Dutch rider Kirsten Wild. Organising Committee president Bruno Dequeecker has kept the door open to possible future format changes.

So, despite its origin as a preparation race for the Tour des Flandres, the AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne became an important appointment on the cycling calendar and the 2020 edition will be raced shortly after the Ronde – just three days after for the men and two days for women.

The Dutch national champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is one of the stars of this year's edition. Winner of the 2020 BinckBank Tour and fresh off his win at the Tour des Flandres, he will have to compete with the sprinters who are also trying to catch their last victory of the year, starting with the Scheldeprijs winner Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) from Australia who won two stages at the Tour de France.

Other possible protagonists could be the experienced Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (UAE - Emirates) and Italy’s Matteo Trentin (CCC) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-McLaren), along with the German John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and his team mate, the 2019 UCI World Champion, Mads Pedersen from Denmark.

Due to her recent positive test result for COVID-19 it’s uncertain whether Kirsten Wild will defend her women’s title. Among the big names who will take part are recent Tour des Flandres winner and 2017 UCI World Champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team), her team mate D’Hoore who won in 2018 and was victorious in this year’s Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields, Belgian national champion Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal), along with Dutch rider Lorena Wiebes (Team Sunweb), who was second in the 2019 edition. There’s also the Italian Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek Segafredo), Briton Lizzie Banks (Équipe Paule Ka) and Germany’s Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling).

The Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne women’s race is due to start at 14h00 CET on 20 October and men’s race at 14h15 CET the following day.