The defining image of last year’s Ghent-Wevelgem was the crumpled bodies and cut faces of the riders who crashed on the descent of the Kemmelberg.
Riders were sent sprawling the first time and the television cameramen waited with a rather unpleasant sense of anticipation to see who would fall off second time round.
Inevitably there were more crashes.
This year the descent from the Kemmelberg has been changed, after calls to cut out the climb completely.
The traditional way down is via a short but very steep cobbled section. Unibet.com’s Jimmy Casper was one of the worst injured in the numerous falls, breaking his collarbone and smashing his face. You can see a clip of his crash – if you really want to – in our race preview.
At the top of the Kemmelberg, instead of forking right and hitting the cobbled road, the race will now go left and take a narrow asphalt road which joins the old route at the end of the cobbles. The descent is narrow and will need to be taken single file, or two abreast at most.
Organisers hope the introduction of a 2.5km section of cobbles a short while before the Kemmelberg will stretch the bunch out and take the pressure off for the descent.
Last year’s problems were exacerbated by dry, dusty cobbles, bouncing bidons and deep-section carbon rims, as well as bad bike handling and panicky braking.
There were calls to eliminate the Kemmelberg altogether but race director Hans De Clercq said it was not an option. “Ghent-Wevelgem without the Kemmel is not Ghent-Wevelgem. It’s just a giant kermesse. We have taken steps to ensure the route is safer by removing the cobbled descent. There is always danger in bike racing and our job as an organiser is to ensure it is not excessive. We don’t believe the new descent is dangerous and we have retained the character of the race.”
But Mark Cavendish was not convinced the new descent was any safer. “Okay, it’s not cobbled but it’s narrow so it’ll be pretty dodgy if they try to all go past each other.
“It’s a makeshift road really and I think it’ll have to be single file. There’s a U-turn at the bottom back onto the cobbles so they haven’t made it easy.”
Pictures by Andy Jones
They used to go right and then hit the cobbled descent. Now they will go left on the narrower path.
The new descent may not be cobbled, but it’s narrow.
On the way down they’ll hit this sharp right-hand turn.
The dangerous cobbled descent is on the left of the picture. The riders will come down the road on the right and join the bottom of the cobbles, where the gradient is much shallower.