GENT-WEVELGEM’22 Preview: Contenders In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

Race Preview: As the cycling season moves into Ed Hood’s favourite faze – The Spring Classics – our most experienced ‘race chaser’ previews this Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem. Steeped in history and a memorial to the many battles and deaths in the area from two World wars. Quite apt at the moment.

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of Gent-Wevelgem 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

In Flanders Fields

Gent – Wevelgem; does it really go from the capital of Flanders to the town by the River Leie?:
Nope – and you wouldn’t ask that if you’d seen the traffic around Gent recently. But the start is on sacred ground; beneath the historic Menin Gate in Ypres, the giant memorial to 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient during World War One but whose bodies have never been identified or found. The finish however is in Wevelgem, Vanackerestraat to be precise, which I can’t think of much to say about, except the time Vik and I were in a bar there and the locals fed us these deep fried globules of I dread to think what. . .

The Menin Gate, Ieper/Yres

But is it a REAL Classic, it used to be mid-week?
That’s true but since it came under the ‘Flanders Classics’ organisation umbrella it’s been upgraded to full World Tour Status with all the World Tour teams in attendance and a ‘proper’ 249 kilometre parcours.

The 9 Climbs
1. Scherpenberg (at 97.5km from the finish)
1,600m, 3% average and 8.4% maximum

2. Baneberg (at 91.9km from the finish)
2,000m, 4.6% avg. and 11.2% max.

3. Monteberg (85.9km from the finish)
1,400m, 7.7% avg. and 8.6% max.

4. Kemmelberg (Belvedere – 84.1km from the finish)
3,000m, 4% avg. and 22% max.

5. Monteberg (at 53.6km from the finish)
1,400m, 7.7% avg. and 8.6% max.

6. Kemmelberg (Belvedere – 51.8km from the finish)
3,000m, 4% avg. and 22% max.

7. Scherpenberg (at 44.3km from the finish)
1,600m, 3% avg. and 8.4% max.

8. Baneberg (at 39.6km from the finish)
2,000m., 4.6% avg. and 11.2% max.

9. Kemmelberg (Ossuaire – 34.3 km from the finish)
700m, 10.4% avg. and 21.1% max.

The 3 Plugstreets (4,000m)
1. Hill 63 (2,100m, at 71.6km from the finish)
2. Christmas Truce (1,300m, at 69.1km from the finish)
3. The Catacombs (600m, at 66.9km from the finish)

It’s supposed to be a ‘sprinters’ classic,’ but what about all those hills?
Yes, there are nine hellingen crammed together in the second half of the race between kilometres 152 and 214 after a dash north up to the North Sea coast and back – BUT with some 30-odd kilometres between the last hill and the finish line there’s time for the race to ‘gel’ and the sprinters to get their breath back, in theory. Sometimes, that is – Cav could never conquer the savage Kemmelberg which is ascended twice, at 197 and 214 kilometres. Of the ‘Recordmen’ only ‘Super Mario’ Cipollini could be said to be a ‘pure’ sprinter, the rest are all tough ‘Classicers.’ We have to factor in the cross winds which sweep across the flatlands and give the strongmen the opportunity to rip the race apart with ‘bordure’ – echelon – riding, playing in to the hands of the classic specialists in the finale.

The Kemmelberg has top men walking

But if it was a race for sprinters how come Cav has never won it, he’s been the fastest man around for the last decade?
Yes, but Cav and the legendary ‘Kemmel’ climb just couldn’t settle their differences; I remember watching the race on Belgian TV and as Cav slipped backwards on the Kemmel the commentator began to sing the Roy Orbison classic; ‘It’s over’ as his co-commentator consoled the Manxman by saying that it wouldn’t be too long until the pan flat Scheldeprijs – those Belgians’ sense of humour. . .

Which are worse, cobbles or gravel?

What about the three gravel sectors – decisive or a gimmick?
‘Plugstreets’ – good viewing for the TV and for testing those tubeless tyres we’re all going to be riding soon, with our disc brakes. Just don’t get Patrick Lefevere started on the subject of gravel.

Hard men in Flanders

Give us the stats then. . .
Unsurprisingly, it helps if you’re Belgian, of 83 editions thus far they’ve won 50, with Italy a distant second on seven wins; but it’s a ‘cosmo’ race with 15 different nations registering a win.

Barry Hoban in 1974

And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention Barry Hoban’s win for GB in 1974 ahead of Messrs. Merckx and De Vlaeminck – beautiful. Six riders have won the race three times: Peter Sagan in 2013, 2016 and 2018 is the only one of the three time winner ‘Recordmen’ still active; the others are Tom Boonen (2004, 2011, 2012), Mario Cipollini (1992, 1993, 2012), Eddy Merckx (1967, 1970, 1973), Rik Van Looy (1956, 1957, 1962), and Robert Van Eenaeme (1936, 1937, 1945). But the Slovak has the best palmarès due to his one second and two third places, giving him six podiums.

‘Tommeke’ in 2012

Peter Sagan is riding; could he or any of the other previous winners riding win again?
Peter Sagan – whose form is coming, it has to be said – is indeed riding and we have another five previous winners on the start sheet.

Peter Sagan in 2018

John Degenkolb 2014 [Team DSM & Germany] it’s highly unlikely he can win unless it’s a savage day.

Eight years since Degenkolb won in 2014

Greg Van Avermaet 2017 [AG2R Citroën & Belgium] it’s unlikely he can repeat but his form is good and a podium wouldn’t surprise us. . .

Van Avermaet – 2017 winner

Alex Kristoff 2019 [Intermarché Wanty & Norway] again, unlikely but if it’s blowing a gale and the rain is stinging then it’ll be just like Stavanger. . .

Can Kristoff repeat 2019?

Mads Pedersen 2020 [Trek Segafredo & Denmark] for sure he can, he’s had two wins already this year and was strong in the Primavera.

Mads Pedersen has the form

Wout Van Aert 2021 [Jumbo Visma & Belgium] another man who it’s not difficult to see winning after his demonstrations in Het Nieuwsblad and Paris-Nice.

Van Aert is (nearly) always a safe bet

WVA won last year, didn’t he – who else can win?
Last year’s runner up, Giacomo Nizzolo, [Israel Premier Tech & Italy] didn’t quite get over the Poggio with, ‘The Bigs’ on Saturday due to a crash. He won’t be on the start-line due to a broken wrist that was found after he finished in Sanremo.

Second in 2021, but no Nizzolo this year

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl field their usual strong line up with big finishers – last year’s Het Nieuwsblad winner, Davide Ballerini [Italy] and the ‘winningest’ man of 2022 thus far, Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen who already has six notches on his top tube.
Albeit the Cipressa was just too much for him. . . Additionally there’s Danish strongman Kasper Asgreen.

As always Quick-Step has a choice – Kasper Asgreen?

On the subject of ‘strongmen,’ big Groupama-FDJ Suisse, Stefan Küng is another man to watch.

Strong man – Stefan Küng

In the absence of MVDP – at time of writing – the hopes of the team with the best hair in the peloton, Alpecin-Fenix rest their hopes with former Belgian Champion and already a winner – with a Tirreno stage and Nokere Koerse to his name this year, Tim Merlier – he’s quick.

Tim Merlier has wins in Tirreno and the Nokere Koerse this year

Big German, Pascal Ackermann [UAE Emirates] has re-found his sprint legs again with a win in the recent Bredene Koksijde Classic.

Pascal Ackermann won in Koksijde last week

Whilst team mate, Italy’s Matteo Trentin has been third into Wevelgem for the last two years.

Trentin was the best in Le Samyn

Then there’s the man who made the descent of the Poggio his own on Saturday, Matej Mohorič [Bahrain Victorious & Slovenia] who has to be considered in any race over 200 kilometres now – and his self-belief will be off the scale. . .

No downhill finish in Wevelgem for Mohrič

And for more form clues watch Wednesday’s Minerva Classic Brugge De Panne and Friday’s GP E3 Saxo Bank Classic

One name ?

Ed’s pick for Wevelgem – Mads Pedersen

St. Pierre – Ed Flemish Classic favourite

The brew?
We’re sticking with Aldi’s, St. Pierre Abbey beer; but pace yourself, I got it wrong with the Peroni Gran Riserva on Saturday and had to watch the finale again on ‘catch up’ on Sunday morning to remind myself what happened. . .

# Keep it PEZ for the ‘Gent-Wevelgem Race Report’ and more news in EUROTRASH Monday. #

Gent-Wevelgem 2021

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of Gent-Wevelgem 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

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