Race Preview: The sophistication of Milano-Sanremo gives way to the gritty reality of the Flemish cobbles, with the chance of freezing, horizontal rain and gale force winds. Gent-Wevelgem is said to be for the sprinters, but it’s always a hard-man who wins. Ed Hood looks at the race and the top riders for Sunday.
The Flanders diet
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 Ghent 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, 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 2020 Gent-Wevelgem route – The organisers are keeping the route to themselves at the moment
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 up graded to full World Tour Status with all the World Tour teams in attendance and last year’s edition covering some 232 kilometres.
Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields
It’s supposed to be a ‘sprinters’ classic,’ but what about all those hills?
We’ve not actually seen the finalised parcours, the organisers will announce it the day before the race, this is to stop hard core fans constructing then squatting in dug outs at strategic points on the parcours the week before the race. But it’s safe to assume that the route will be similar to previous years with those 11 hellingen crammed together in the second half of the race 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. That said, 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.
Cipo won in ’93
But if it was a race for sprinters then how come Cav has never won it, he was the fastest man around?
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. . .
Cav on the wheel of Tommeke – Gent-Wevelgem 2009
What about the three gravel sectors – decisive or a gimmick?
Good viewing for the TV and for testing them tubeless tyres we’re all going to be riding soon, with our disc brakes.
Gravel – Plugstreets
Give us the stats then. . .
Unsurprisingly, it helps if you’re Belgian, of 82 editions thus far they’ve won 49, with Italy a distant second on seven wins; but it’s a ‘cosmo’ race with 15 different nations registering a win. 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.
Britain’s Barry Hoban winner in 1974
But Sagan isn’t riding, he’s in Catalunya, are any of the other previous winners riding and could they win again?
Sagan not on the gravel this year
Plenty! John Degenkolb 2014 [Lotto Soudal & Germany] unlikely, unless it’s a savage day.
A hard day for a hard man
Greg Van Avermaet 2017 [AG2R Citroen & Belgium] no.
A win for Van Avermaet would be good for his new team
Edvald Basson Hagen 2009 [Team Total Direct Energie] no.
2009 was a long time ago for Boasson Hagen
Alex Kristoff 2019 [UAE Team Emirates & Norway] again, unlikely but if it’s blowing a gale and the rain is stinging. . .
Kristoff could pull off a surprise
Marcus Burghardt 2007 [BORA-hansgrohe & Germany] no.
Burghardt – Maybe not
Mads Pedersen [Trek-Segafredo & Denmark] for sure he can, he’s already won in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne albeit he can thank fellow Dane, Kasper Asgreen [Deceuninck – Quick-Step] for dragging MVDP back in the finale in that one. Pedersen won last year, didn’t he – who else can win?
Pedersen was good in Kuurne
Of the ‘Three Wise Men,’ Ala, Mathieu and Wout, only the last mentioned Belgian TT Champion rides for his Jumbo Visma team, their line-up is ‘all for Wout’ so it’s unlikely he’ll find himself isolated – after 230K there’s not many can beat him in a sprint.
Mathieu won’t be watching
Deceuninck – Quick-Step field their usual Galactico line up with Het Nieuwsblad winner, Davide Ballerini [Italy] and double UAE Tour and Paris-Nice stage winner, Sam Bennett [Ireland] both running hot.
Bennett for Deceuninck
Big, strong and fast, Cees Bol [Team DSM & The Netherlands] is due a major result and his Paris-Nice stage win endorses his form.
Cees Bol – Another win?
In the absence of MVDP, 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 in Le Samyn, GP Monsere and Bredene Koksijde Classic, Tim Merlier – he’s quick.
Tim Merlier is on form
Small but perfectly formed multi-talented Tom Pidcock [INEOS Grenadiers & GB] at just 21 years-of-age and in his first full pro season is proving startlingly talented – witness his fruitless but very strong riding in the Primavera.
Could it be Tom’s day?
Big German, Pascal Ackermann [BORA-hansgrohe] isn’t quite firing on as many cylinders as he was in 2020 but form can’t be too far away.
Ackermann – Outside bet?
Just one name?
Wout is the man for Wevelgem
And the brew?
Bacchus Framboise, it goes down SO nicely. . .
# Keep it PEZ for all the news from Wevelgem. Race report on Sunday, plus catch-up with EuroTrash and The PEZ Race Breakdown on Monday. Live action at SteepHillTV. #