Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday (March 25) in Belgium stands out as one of Mark Cavendish’s objectives, a race to win in his World Champion’s rainbow jersey. In theory, it ought to be an easy task as it is a sprinters’ race, but its key Kemmelberg climb will put him and others on the ropes and favour a small group finish.
Tom Boonen won and crushed the hopes of the escape group that Ian Stannard led last year. Cavendish, having yet to join team Sky, punctured and slipped out of the game early on.
Cavendish’s helper, Bernhard Eisel led home a small group of six that formed from multiple attacks coming off the Kemmelberg two years ago.
“It’s a race that wasn’t on my hit list the last couple of years,” Boonen said last year. “It was time to add it again to my palmarès.”
Belgian organisers have shuffled their classics around in recent years. This year, the E3 Prijs or GP Harelbeke runs on Friday, giving a day’s rest before Ghent-Wevelgem. It might make little difference, as the riders who race the 203-kilometre E3 Prijs are Tour of Flanders types and some will skip Sunday’s appointment.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) blew the field apart last year in the E3 Prijs and skipped Ghent-Wevelgem. Boonen did the opposite.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2012: The race
The race starts in Deinze, runs to the coast and heads south towards France for its first two climbs, the Casselberg twice. Those climbs and the expanded distance, from 205 to 235.4 kilometres, differentiate the race from last year.
The Kemmelberg climb is still the race’s centrepiece, appearing twice at 182 and 199 kilometres in, but it is no longer the final climb. The Monteberg, the 11th and last climb this year, follows the second Kemmelberg ascent. The climb could favour an attack group and spoil Cavendish’s chances.
Anyone who escapes will still have to deal with 32.8 kilometres, which as Stannard discovered last year, is a long way.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2012: The favourites
Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Time will tell if the World Champion recovered from his crash in the Dwars door Vlaanderen. However, he will be ready for revenge after misfiring in Milan-San Remo on Saturday. He will have the help of Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen, both past winners.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)
Sky, as with San Remo, will keep Boasson Hagen as their second option. He took his breakthrough win in Wevelgem in 2009 and put journalists to sleep in the winner’s press conference. Since then, he is stronger and more talkative.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)
The defending champion is back, but is also racing E3 Prijs on Friday. His desire to repeat will be depend on what happens in Harelbeke, if he misses out, look for him to take a third win in Wevelgem.
André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol)
If Cavendish is there, Greipel will be too. He showed stronger in Milan-San Remo, where he was only held back by a crash. This race is one of his spring goals along with San Remo and, yes, Paris-Roubaix.
The team still needs to finalise its start list, both Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd recently suffering from fevers. The super team has options though, including Adam Blythe and past winners George Hincapie and Marcus Burghardt.
Matthew Goss (GreenEdge)
He supported Simon Gerrans in San Remo and now it is his turn. GreenEdge seems to be on a roll this week with Gerrans and Michael Albasini. Goss could take a sort of WorldTour Triple Crown.
Oscar Freire (Katusha)
Katusha was desperate to deliver the Spaniard to the win and close Gerrans’ attack group in San Remo. It could not, but the team will look to do something similar in Wevelgem. Freire is on form, showing well in San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda)
Farrar excels in the cobbled classics and sprints, so Ghent-Wevelgem is the right mix for him. It remains to be seen if he is misfiring or just holding back.
Also watch out for…
José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar)
Michael Matthews (Rabobank)
Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan)
John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i)
Ghent-Wevelgem 2012: Teams
Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas
Ag2r La Mondiale
Farnese Vini-Selle Italia
Ghent-Wevelgem: Recent winners
2011: Tom Boonen
2010: Bernhard Eisel
2009: Edvald Boasson-Hagen
2008: Oscar Freire
2007: Marcus Burghardt
2006: Thor Hushovd
2005: Nico Mattan
2004: Tom Boonen
2003: Andreas Klier
2002: Mario Cipollini
Ghent-Wevelgem: Last year’s top 10 (2011)
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
2. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard-Trek
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Cervelo
4. Andre Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
5. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) Ag2r
6. Mitchell Docker (Aus) Skil-Shimano
7. Bernhard Eisel (Ger) HTC-Highroad
8. Kristof Goddaert (Bel) Ag2r
9. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank
10. Baden Cooke (Aus) Saxo Bank-Sungard all same time