Gent-Wevelgem Preview

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Gent Wevelgem

This Sunday’s race is the most sprinter-friendly of the cobbled classics and it’s World Tour race too, so we get action and a deep field. Cobbles and climbs feature but so does a long section to the finish line to suit the sprinters. Only the weather could ravage the race with very strong winds forecast.

The Route: at 239km this is a big test, once the distance goes out beyond 200km a lot of lesser names will fall out of contention. It’s really Deinze-Wevelgem as the start is 25km away from Gent. The second half of the route sees a series of cobbled climbs starting with the Casselberg or Mont Cassel as the locals call it because it’s in France.

Mont Cassel: the course is about the second half when the race crosses into France for the first climb of Mont Cassel which is tackled twice. It’s longer and higher than your typical berg and it’s urban and includes the Porte d’Aire archway. If it’s cobbled in part, it’s smooth and sections of pavé have had asphalt poured on top to level things out. It’s not decisive but it’s hard and saps the legs with a section at 19%.

The Kemmelberg: once the site of slaughter in the First World War, the Kemmel now welcomes all to ride up its cobbled road. It has been used in this race since 1955 when it was wholly unpaved. Now a mix of tarmac and cobbles, there are several routes up and down and recent editions have seen the race take a more sensible descent after the cobbles provoked bouncing water bottles, bikes and even riders to fell others.

The Finish: fast and flat and on a wide road.

The Scenario: this race has often ended in a bunch sprint only from a reduced group meaning. It’s not about a grand tour style sprint finish but a select group where some sprinters can win thanks to their finishing speed. The lead group gets thinned by the climbs and crosswinds and this year’s edition will see savage winds and teams will exploit this to reduce the field.

However the wind is not going to be at 90 degrees to the bunch for long, the race heads towards the coast before heading south at Adinkerke and it’ll be exposed there for almost 40km then there’s more or less a tailwind to the bergs where the race loops around in all directions – this is the place to blow apart what’s left of the race – before a tailwind to Wevelgem and if there’s still a big group left, the tailwind multiplies the chance of a crash.

The Contenders: a sprint finish, foul weather mean Alexander Kristoff is the prime pick. He’s in good shape, has a strong team and has come close to a result. He is a strong sprinter but has that deep strength needed to charge to the line after 240km.

The last time a Flemish classic ended in a sprint for the line Mark Cavendish beat Kristoff in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne but he’s had a run of bad luck this month. He’s still a strong pick but he’s been dropped in recent years on the climbs in this race and the crosswinds won’t help him stay in place. Etixx-Quickstep will want to help him reach the finish but riders like Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh and Zdeněk Štybar are not going to wait for him.

John Degenkolb is next. He won last year and returns stronger and more confident than ever, this confidence spreads to the team who will bury themselves as they know he can win. He made the cut in the E3 Harelbeke.

Peter Sagan has won here before, going solo in 2013 to finish with a wheelie. Those days seem distant but he’s not far away from a result and maybe his forceful style is suited to staying upright in the strong winds. The risk for him and his team is he wastes energy with attacks rather than relying on his sprint.

Arnaud Démare made the podium last year. The classics are his big goal and as a sprinter this is D-day for him. Many were surprised to see Nacer Bouhanni sixth in Sanremo but remember he was 10th in the Worlds last year, all done after training solo when FDJ benched him for speaking out against Marc Madiot, so he can go the distance too.

André Greipel had a big crash last year when he could have sprinted to the win. Now he’s back and with a decent team including Jens Debusschere for the sprint too. Jurgen Roelandts quietly made the top-10 in Harelbeke and is coming into form just at the right time.

There’s no guaranteed sprint and Sep Vanmarcke is a good pick to win from a small group, he just needs a bit of luck and maybe some stealth and craft to hide, team mate Tom Van Asbroeck is fast if he can make the finish. Greg Van Avermaet is perhaps a touch weaker than Vanmarcke but backed by a much stronger team, Daniel Oss and Jempy Drucker.

Team Sky bring Bradley Wiggins, an attraction for the public but a less obvious winner. Ian Stannard‘s getting over a bug while Geraint Thomas is going to be heavily marked. Elia Viviani is the house sprinter but after 240km can he deliver? Luke Rowe brings more options but seems to be functioning as a deluxe helper.

Trek Factory Racing will count on Giacomo Nizzolo and Danny Van Poppel for the sprint. Both have won this year and should win more but after such a long race their chances are reduced. Worth watching Stijn Devolder too, the enigma has some large shoes to fill now Fabian Cancellara is sat at home. Sam Bennett is improving and if was 12th last year can he do better? The question is the weather, last year’s balmy conditions suited a bunch sprint so making it to the outskirts of Wevelgem is going to be a lot harder.

MTN-Qhubeka’s chances could be copy-pasted from previous previews: new hires, lots of sprinters, few wins with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Gerald Ciolek looking the best options.

Alexander Kristoff
Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb
Peter Sagan, Niki Terpstra, Greg Van Avermaet
Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, Zdeněk Štybar, Geraint Thomas
Viviani, Debusschere, Bozic, Nizzolo, Van Aesbroeck, Boasson Hagen

Some obvious names but all picks should be discounted by the uncertainty the wind will bring. Last year’s balmy conditions suited a bunch sprint, this year promises the opposite.

Weather: grey, wet and a top temperature of 11°C. So far so normal for the Belgian spring. Only the wind is forecast to howl, it’ll blow at 40km/h from the west with one website forecasting 95km/h gusts which could be enough to stop the race, it’s 10 on the Beaufort scale and enough to blow riders off the road and fell large branches from the trees.

TV: it’s on Sporza, Eurosport and other channels. Coverage starts at 2.15pm and the finish is expected for 5.05pm Euro time.

Note the clocks change in Europe this weekend. If you’re inclined, be ready to hop channels or browser tabs as it’s also the finish of the Volta a Catalunya with its tricky Montjuic circuit while the Criterium International gets its decisive showdown on the Col de l’Ospedale.

Lauren Hall

Women’s Race Preview: the women’s Gent-Wevelgem is on too, see Cyclingtips and Velofocus for previews.

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gabriele March 28, 2015 at 7:46 pm

The Montjuic circuit should finish earlier than the G-W, about 14:30 CET, I think. A true pity they took away the “Castillo” climb which made it really thorny, now it’s more like an undulate course which isn’t hard to control for a strong team.

Has Viviani recovered from his fall which kept him away from Milano-Sanremo? He’s a punchy rider with good stamina, sprints well in stage races and/or in hard conditions (loves rain & cobbles), even if, just as you say, he seems to have some trouble when the distance goes over 200k.

The Inner Ring March 28, 2015 at 7:58 pm

That’s right for the Volta a Catalunya, the final stage is expected to finish at 2.30pm.

Tovarishch March 28, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Really interested to see if Sky try something different. With four team pursuiters in the team (including Viviani is his early days) could they try and drive it to the line?

Anonymous March 28, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Bonifazio, Cimolai, Wallays & Theuns surely deserve a mention

The Inner Ring March 28, 2015 at 9:18 pm

This is a big step up for them. Wallays did well in Paris-Tours so he’s good with the distance and Theuns is having a great season but against Kristoff and Co? We’ll see.

Anonymous March 28, 2015 at 8:55 pm

G-W should do something to bring it to life. If they take it out of the WT, there won’t be radios, and it would be interesting for a race this long.

Anonymous March 28, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Just add some more hills. We have enough sprints the rest of the year and there’s only a few true high-level Flandrian races (OHN, Dwars, E3, Ronde).

Ian D March 28, 2015 at 9:20 pm

I can see pics fine

Stretch March 28, 2015 at 10:29 pm

I think Matteo Trentin could be the man for Etixx, can’t see Cav being there at the finish and Trentin is in good form winning the bunch sprint at E3

AK March 28, 2015 at 11:22 pm

I hope Vanmarcke can pull off a solo escape, he’s been very strong this year but with a lot of bad luck. Of course if he gets lucky once this season he’d probably rather save that for next week.
BTW, did you mean to leave Greipel out of the chainring list? Isn’t obvious from the ‘contenders’ section, esp. with Debusschere in there.

Andrew E March 29, 2015 at 12:38 am

For my money Vanmarcke is becoming a nearly man (see Peter Sagan) but without all the negative publicity that is being drawn towards the Slovakian. And I think that’s a bit out of order. He needs a few more 1sts to his name and should be getting a bit more flak that he hasn’t. But I don’t expect Gent-Wevelgem to be slotting into his win column.

Kristoff or Degenkolb for me.

Eriksen March 29, 2015 at 3:05 am

Why should Vanmarcke get more flak? For every Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara there are 200 guys that don’t win. His incredible ability on the cobbles is there for all to see, and losing a couple of sprints to a legend don’t make a 26 year old a nearly man. Such a statement belongs in 2025 if he is still without a E3, RVV or PR win!

Andrew E March 29, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Your comment only highlights all the more the fire that Sagan is drawing, in that case. Indeed, Sagan is even younger than Vanmarcke.

I just get very bored having the same riders constantly named as favourite when their win column is lacking.

Gargatouf March 30, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Vanmarcke is listed as a favourite because he is a “natural” cobbles rider if you want. I agree that due to his lack of palmares, he shouldn’t be listed as such but you pretty much know he’s going to be there or thereabout and be placed (in top 5 of all the big cobbles classics last year for example).

He’s not getting as much flak as Sagan because he has never won anything big. If he starts winning big races consistently and stops delivering, he will start getting more flak, but he has never won, so obviously won’t get criticised more as people expect you to carry on winning once you have done it.

Ian March 29, 2015 at 3:14 am

Degenkolb for me, Sam Bennett is also capable of a podium spot tomorrow. I don’t see Cavendish or Viviani being there at the finish in front..

http://www.cyclingbetting.co.uk/betting-tips/betting-previews/372-gent-wevelgem-2015

viltrio March 29, 2015 at 1:04 pm

I really like D.Oss and I think he is in a good shape now (look at his performance last week approaching Sanremo). However I still do not know whether he is just the perfect domestique or he could be also captain and he is kind of wasting his time.
We have a tradition in Italy (Bertagnolli, Bruseghin, Mazzoleni – let alone Paolini) for riders of this kind, and I think they had valuable careers. But I think Oss might win races like this and I am a bit disappointed that he always have to wait for unexpected circumstances to take the lead. What do you think?

Thanks for all your work – this page is one of the best resources on cycling all over the web.

Cheers,

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