CW reporter Lionel Birnie will be Twittering from the Columbia-Highroad car – go to www.twitter.com/cyclingweekly

There’s only one question that springs to mind when you mention Wednesday’s Ghent-Wevelgem: can Mark Cavendish win it?

The British Team Columbia sprinter is undoubtedly in the form of his short yet astounding career, having won Milan-San Remo last month with a devastatingly well-timed and powerful sprint that literally left his rivals standing.

Subsequently, the sprinter from the Isle of Man has added two stage wins at the Three Days of De Panne to underline his dominance in bunch finishes. The second of these two wins was important to his Wevelgem preparations, as it used the same decisive climb over the Kemmelberg.

Before his win at Milan-San Remo, Cavendish made no secret of the fact that Ghent-Wevelgem was at the top of his ‘must win’ checklist.

Last year, Cavendish was boxed in at the finish in a chaotic sprint that saw Spaniard Oscar Freire (Rabobank) come out on top. He’s unlikely to let someone else spoil the party this year.

Cavendish will also be fresher than some of his sprint rivals, having elected to miss Sunday’s brutal Tour of Flanders. He’s also backed by a strong squad that includes 2001 Ghent-Wevelgem winner George Hincapie. As they proved in San Remo, his team can effectively police the peloton to give their man a chance.

Predicting whether the race will culminate in a bunch finish to favour Cavendish is virtually impossible, over the past decade or so the race has seen successful breaks and sprint finishes among small groups of riders, as well as full-on mass sprints for the line. We chart the way the race has panned out below.

If Cavendish does win, he’ll become the first Briton to do so since Barry Hoban in 1974.

Of course, it’s not all just about Cavendish. Let’s not forget that Britain is also very strongly represented by a man who has featured in the top ten on four occasions – Roger Hammond. Hammond’s Cervelo Test Team have been movers and shakers in every race they have taken part in this year. We take a more in-depth look at who we rate for success in our ‘favourites’ section below.


GHENT-WEVELGEM: THE FAVOURITES

We’ve compiled two lists of favourites. The ‘A’ list consists of pre-race hot tips who are currently on form and/or have a previous good track record at the event.

The ‘B’ list is more a selection of riders who could break through if they get in a good escape, or luck shines on them in a chaotic bunch finish.

Last year’s winner, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is not taking part this year – he’s elected to ride in the Tour of the Basque Country instead.

If you want to know how we think the top ten will look, take a look at our Ghent-Wevelgem top ten predictions.

A LIST

Mark Cavendish (Columbia), Milan-San Remo winner

Tom Boonen (Quick Step)

Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), Tour of Flanders winner

Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto)

Aurelian Clerc (Ag2r), second last year

Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo), ninth last year, second in Flanders

Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Slipstream), fourth in Flanders

Filippo Pozzato (Katusha)

Gert Steegmans (Katusha)

B LIST

Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step), third last year

Jose Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne), seventh last year

Roger Hammond (Cervelo), second in 2007

Alexandre Usov (Cofidis)

George Hincapie (Columbia), winner in 2001

Bert De Waele (Landbouwkrediet), 10th in Flanders

Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil), eighth in Flanders

Robert Forster (Milram)

Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Saxo Bank)

Nick Nuyens (Rabobank)

Kenny De Haes (Katusha), fifth last year


GHENT-WEVELGEM: THE BRITS

Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road)

Roger Hammond (Cervelo Test Team)

Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo Test Team)

Daniel Lloyd (Cervelo Test Team)


GHENT-WEVELGEM: THE ROUTE

Wednesday, April 8

203 kilometres

Starts in Deinze, just to the west of Ghent, then heads west on flat roads. The wind is the main obstacle in the first half of the race but the route does not quite reach the coast.

The riders then turn south and tackle the Monteberg and Kemmelberg twice each before a largely flat run-in to the finish in Wevelgem.


RECENT YEARS: SPRINT OR BREAK?

imageOscar Freire wins the bunch finish in 2008

2008 Oscar Freire (Spain) Rabobank

SPRINTcolour> Freire comes out on top in a chaotic bunch sprint that sees British riders Mark Cavendish and Roger Hammond squeezed against the barriers.

2007 Marcus Burghardt (Germany) T-Mobile

BREAKcolour> Burghardt’s, team-mate Roger Hammond, Christophe Mengin and Florent Brard are in a long break that is later joined by the eventual winner plus Oscar Freire and Francisco Ventoso. They fought out the finish.

2006 Thor Hushovd (Norway) Credit Agricole

SPRINTcolour> Milram chase down Bert Roesems in the streets of Wevelgem. Filippo Pozzato goes for it but fades in the headwind and Hushovd wins a 30-man sprint

2005 Nico Mattan (Belgium) Davitamon-Lotto

BREAKcolour> An aggressive final hour sees Juan Antonio Flecha try to shake off the rest of the lead group, which he does with three kilometres to go. Mattan gives chase and, partly aided by the motorbikes and a Shimano neutral service car, which are too close, catches and passes the Spaniard with 300 metres to go.

2004 Tom Boonen (Belgium) Quick Step

SPRINTcolour> Quick Step control the race for the final 30 kilometres, after rescuing Boonen when he punctured. They set such a pace no one can get away and the finish is a formality.

2003 Andreas Klier (Germany) T-Mobile

SMALL SPRINTcolour> Klier and four others break free of a 12-man group and fight out the finish among themselves. Klier beats Henk Vogels and Tom Boonen. Alberto Ongarato and Servais Knaven got burned off in the last kilometre.

2002 Mario Cipollini (Italy) Acqua & Sapone

SMALL SPRINTcolour> George Hincapie, Fred Rodriguez and Hendrik Van Dyck must have groaned when they saw Cipo come across the gap after the second climb of the Kemmelberg.

2001 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service

BREAKcolour> The race-winning move went before the first climb of the Kemmelberg and it whittled down over and again as the finish approached.

2000 Gert Van Bondt (Belgium) Farm Frites

BREAKcolour> Van Bondt attacks from an eight-man group to win, while his team-mate Peter Van Petegem plays policeman behind.

1999 Tom Steels (Belgium) Mapei

SPRINTcolour> Steels gets an armchair ride from team-mates Johan Museeuw and Wilfried Peeters and wins the 15-up sprint.

1998 Frank Vandenbroucke (Belgium) Mapei

BREAKcolour> VDB wins with a strong attack.


BRITS AT WEVELGEM

The top 20 finishes by British riders in Belgium’s premier midweek Classic.

Mark Cavendish will be one of the favourites for Ghent-Wevelgem next Wednesday. Of all the spring Classics, it’s the one where British riders have had the most success. Barry Hoban is the only winner, in 1974, but Tom Simpson, Sean Yates and Roger Hammond have all been runners-up.

Hammond is another man to watch ? particularly if the race does not culminate in a sprint. He’s also in good form, played the role of perfect team-mate to last year’s winner Marcus Burghardt, and has finished in the top ten three times.

1st

Barry Hoban (1974)

Read how Cycling covered Hoban’s Wevelgem win here.

2nd

Tom Simpson (1963)

Sean Yates (1989)

Roger Hammond (2007)

6th

Roger Hammond (2003)

10th

Roger Hammond (2000, 2008)

14th

Joey McLoughlin (1987)

16th

Barry Hoban (1969)

John Herety (1982)

17th

Mark Cavendish (2008)

Barry Hoban (1973)


BRITS IN SPRING

Britain’s best results at the major Spring Classics

Milan-San Remo – 2009 Mark Cavendish; 1964 Tom Simpson

Tour of Flanders – 1961 Tom Simpson

Ghent-Wevelgem – 1974 Barry Hoban

Paris-Roubaix – no British winner. (Hoban third in 1972, Hammond third in 2004)

Amstel Gold – no British winner. (Malcolm Elliott third in 1987)

Flèche Wallonne – no British winner. (Tom Simpson third in 1965)

Liège-Bastogne-Liège – no British winner. (Robert Millar third in 1988)


RELATED LINKS

Ghent-Wevelgem 2009: Top ten predictions

Devolder wins Tour of Flanders for second straight time

British Cervelo riders impress in Tour of Flanders

Cavendish wins again in De Panne

Cavendish wins Milan-San Remo

Ghent-Wevelgem 2008 in pictures

2008 race report: Freire wins Ghent-Wevelgem

2008: Cavendish disappointed after chaotic Ghent-Wevelgem finale

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