Just seven days before the Belgian classics season reaches its apex at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, riders have one more chance to hone their form and possibly pull off a major one day win at the Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, March 30.
As its inclusion in the UCI WorldTour suggests, Ghent-Wevelgem is a major race in its own right, and features a parcours with characteristics notably distinct from the Ronde. There are plenty of typically Flemish climbs in the second half of the race, but are neither as frequent nor as difficult as those in its more prestigious cousin.
Neither is Ghent-Wevelgem as long, although at 233 kilometres it still demands greater levels of stamina than usually required. However the last 35km – the point in which the route’s added distance will begin to hurt – are all flat, which greatly increases the chances of a large group reaching the line together.
Two of the four editions since the re-imagining of the route in 2010 have finished in bunch sprint, suggesting that the balance is finely tuned between the sprinters and the rouleurs. Much will depend on what happens on the two ascents (and descents) of the Kemmelberg, the climb most closely associated with Ghent-Wevelgem. It is tackled twice – 80kms and 40kms from the finish – and, particularly the second time, is the perfect launch-pad for an attack.
Strong Sky team
Team Sky has enjoyed a good run of results this spring, and many of their top performers will be at the start line in Deinze (Ghent is, confusingly, no longer the race’s starting town). Het Nieuwsblad winner Ian Stannard suffered a crash in E3 Harelbeke on Friday, but is expected to be fine for Sunday.
In the absence of Stannard, Geraint Thomas posted a third place finish at the E3, and will also take part in Ghent-Wevelgem. But with the flatter profile, it may well be the time for Edvald Boasson Hagen – who won here in 2009 – to come to the fore.
Ones to Watch
Peter Sagan, Cannondale
Fresh from claiming one of the biggest wins of his short career in Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, last year’s winner Sagan is favourite to make it two wins in three days. Last year he surprised everyone by attacking 4km out rather than wait for the sprint, though his race-winning effort on Friday may leave him too fatigued to try something similar.
Alexander Kristoff, Katusha
Kristoff’s profile has increased since his career-defining Milan-San Remo win earlier this month, meaning his rivals will be wary of the threat he poses – but the Norwegian is perhaps even better suited to Ghent-Wevelgem, and could pull off a rare double.
John Degenkolb, Giant-Shimano
The German’s showing in Paris-Nice underlined his sprinting ability, while his resilient ride in the E3 Harelbeke – where he hung on for a time in Sagan’s race-winning move – showed his ability of the cobbled climbs. Ghent-Wevelgem’s relatively easier terrain will suit him.
Tom Boonen, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
With Mark Cavendish missing with a viral infection, three-time winner Tom Boonen will lead Omega’s team. But the Belgian is enduring a difficult time at the moment, having crashed and injured his thumb at the E3, and recently suffering the trauma of losing a child to a miscarriage.
Borut Bozic, Astana
Borut Bozic may be far from a household name, but he has a quietly impressive record in Ghent-Wevelgem and races of similar ilk. He won the sprint for second behind Sagan here last year, and was third in Dwars Door Vlaanderen earlier this week – if Sunday’s race ends in a sprint, he could well upgrade to first.
Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Sharp
Is Tyler Farrar returning to his best form? It’s been years since he was competitive in the classics and registering Grand Tour wins, but a podium in Dwars Door Vlaanderen and top ten in Ghent-Wevelgem suggests that he shouldn’t be written off.
Fabian Cancellara, Trek
All the riders listed above are strong in sprint finishes, but Ghent-Wevelgem is not a guaranteed sprint finish. Cancellara doesn’t usually feature in Ghent-Wevelgem, but may be seeking to avenge his misfortune in Friday’s E3. Belkin, meanwhile, aren’t taking a recognised sprinter, suggesting that the ever-aggressive Sep Vanmarcke is planning to make the race difficult.
When: Sunday, March 30
Status: UCI WorldTour
Ghent-Wevelgem 2014: Climbs
Ghent-Wevelgem 2014: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Cofidis Credit Solutions
Trek Factory Racing
Ghent-Wevelgem: Recent winners
2013: Peter Sagan
2012: Tom Boonen
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
Ghent-Wevelgem: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale in 4-29-10
2. Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana at 28 secs
3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
4. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling
5. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM
6. Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ
7. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky
8. Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
9. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) RadioShack-Leopard
10. Andrei Amador (Crc) Movistar at same time
Omega Pharma-QuickStep confirms that Mark Cavendish will not start Sunday's Ghent-Wevelgem after suffering from fever