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GENT-WEVELGEM’20 Preview: On Flanders Cobbles!

Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields

Race Preview: Do you remember Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad back before Covid-19 stopped the 2020 season? Normally they would be the foreplay to the main act of Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix, but the season is now upside-down. Ed Hood takes us from Gent (Iepre/Ypres) over the cobbles and the bergs to Wevelgem before Sunday’s race.

Last year – Alex Kristoff

Gent-Wevelgem was first run in 1934, the 2020 race will be edition 82; with that first race being won by Belgium’s Gustave Van Belle. Last year’s race fell to Viking strongman, Alex Kristoff giving Norway her third win after Messrs. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Thor Hushovd.

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Wevelgem record holder – Sagan

The ‘Recordman’ is ‘on Giro duty’ – Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe & Slovakia); as well as his three wins he has a second place and two third places which puts him ahead of the others with three wins to their credit: Robert Van Eenaeme (Belgium) – a wee bit before my time – ‘Super’ Mario Cipollini (Italy); Rik [II] Van Looy; Eddy Merckx and Tom Boonen all Belgian and all of them on the ‘all time greats’ list.

Wevelgem - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Jens KEUKELEIR (Belgium / Team Orica Scott) - Greg VAN AVERMAET (Belgium / BMC Racing Team) pictured during Gent - Wevelgem World Tour UCI - photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2017
Greg Van Avermaet 2017

Statistically it helps if you’re Belgian; the home nation has won 49 times with the Italians a distant second on seven wins and The Netherlands on five. Greg Van Avermaet last won for Belgium in 2017, whilst Paolini’s epic win for Italy in terrible conditions came in 2015; but it’s all the way back to 1989 – when Dutchman Gerrit Solleveld out sprinted Britain’s Sean Yates – to find the last ‘orange’ winner.

Juan Antonio Flecha 2005

The last decade has witnessed a cosmopolitan mix of winners with Norway, Germany, Spain, Austria and Slovakia all adding their name to the roll. A few of the most recent wins tell the tale about how this race is won; in short, there’s no formula – a man can get away solo, as with Flecha in 2005, only for another rider to solo up to him (perhaps with a little help from the race cars) and things end in a two man sprint where Nico Mattan (Belgium) won; 2009 also saw Boasson Hagen win from a group of two; the break can stick as with Burghardt (Germany) in 2007; a ‘pure’ sprinter like Freire (Spain) can win as in 2008 or the strongmen can bludgeon the rest in a smaller group sprint as with Hushovd in 2006, Boonen in 2011/12 and Degenkolb in 2014 whilst Paolini won ‘en seule’ in 2015.

Peter Sagan in 2018

Two years ago Sagan won a group sprint from Viviani and Démare; with Kristoff besting Degenkolb and Naesen in a similar finish last year. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention Mr. Barry Hoban (Great Britain) who out-dragged Merckx and De Vlaeminck to win in 1974 – major respect.

Barry Hoban in 1974, photo thanks to Woodrup Cycles of Leeds, England

The Gent-Wevelgem parcours have similarities to those of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with a mixture of cobbles and bergs – albeit GW is an hour longer that KBK – in that whilst there are tough ramps to breast, there’s nearly an hour of racing on flat roads after that to allow the sprinters to catch their breath. But the problem for the fast twitch guys is that if the hyenas sees a lone sprinter straggling on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg with around 40K to race they’ll do all in their power to prevent him from getting back to the shelter of the herd – ask Mark Cavendish.

wevelgem 2020 map
Thanks to La FlammeRouge and ProCyclingStats for the map and profile

I remember a cheeky Belgian commentator doing a Roy Orbison impersonation as ‘Cav’ slipped off the back; ‘It’s over, it’s over!’

Wevelgem - Belgie - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Gent - Wevelgem - Ghand - Wevelgem - Tom Boonen (Belgie / Team Quick Step - Quickstep) - Mark Cavendish (Grootbrittannie/Team Columbia High Road) - foto Wessel van Keuk/Cor Vos ©2009
A young Mark Cavendish on the wheel of Tom Boonen in Wevelgem’09

If the wind blows – and living on the other side of that North Sea I can testify that it usually does – then the echelons will form; often early, on the way down towards the coast making this a fast, tough, physical race – if you can’t fight for position in the echelons and approaches to the climbs then forget it.

You need to be able to ride in an echelon

The 2020 winner?
Pascal Ackermann (BORA-hansgrohe & Germany): The big German broke through last year and since lock down has won two Tirreno stages and had two BinckBank podiums; he won’t be far away.

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Pascal Ackermann will be up there

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step & Ireland): He won on those Elysian Fields in the green jersey – and if that’s not enough he’s backed by the best Classics team in the business.

Sam Bennet in the green

Cees Bol (Team Sunweb & The Netherlands): Two Tour de France podiums for the big fast man, he likes this kind of race. . .

Cees Bol – He likes this kind of race

John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal & Germany): Perhaps in the autumn of a great career but as with Naesen if it’s a tough day. . .

John Degenkolb – Showed his old skills in Luxembourg

Alex Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates): He won here last year and in case we thought he was past it this year – he won Stage One in Le Tour. Another man who likes it TOUGH.

Alexander Kristoff – 2019 winner

Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale & Belgium): The harder the day the better it will suit him; second to VdP on the key BinckBank stage indicates he’s ready to match last year’s podium.

Oliver Naesen – Podium last year

Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling & Italy): On fire pre Tour with the Italian and European Championship notches on his top tube; has he recovered from his Tour crash?

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Euro champ – Giacomo Nizzolo

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo & Denmark): Last year’s World Champion was strong in the BinckBank with a stage win, excellent chrono and fifth on GC. This could be his day, especially if it’s a rough old day.

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Mads Pedersen – The ex-World champion was riding well in the BinckBank Tour last week

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma & Belgium): Two Worlds silver medals, two Tour stages, the Strade Bianche, the Primavera – ‘nuff said.

Another Classic for Wout van Aert

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix & The Netherlands): The final stage and GC in the BinckBank then sixth in Liege despite that big frame of his – the podium beckons.

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Mathieu van der Poel was flying in the BinckBank Tour

And please remember that there may be late additions/exclusions after we go to press.

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Jeremy Hunt on the Flemish cobbles

Last word on cobbled classics to seasoned British ex-professional and hard man, Jez Hunt: “If you have good form then you fly over the cobbles – but if you’re going s##t, you don’t.” Jez was a man of few words but the ones you did get were succinct.

When in Flanders…

# Stay PEZ for the Gent-Wevelgem Race Report on Sunday. For live action go to SteepHillTV. #

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