With Milan-San Remo done and dusted, the focus shifts to Flanders as the build-up to the second Monument of the season, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, continues with the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem.
Traditionally a sprinters' classic, Gent-Wevelgem plays out over varied terrain - from the poignant flat Flanders fields to the steep and cobbled bergs, or helligen, that make these gruelling one-day races so iconic.
WHEN IS GENT-WEVELGEM?
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So-called Flanders Week gets under way on Friday with Kasper Asgreen defending his E3 Saxo Bank Classic crown, followed by the more prestigious Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday 27 March. The race is scheduled to start at 09:50 UK time with the finish around 16:00 UK time.
IS THERE A WOMEN’S EDITION?
There is indeed – and unlike many one-day races that run concurrently, the women’s edition starts and finishes slightly later than the men’s race. The women’s race starts at 12:50 and runs until around 17:10, both UK time.
HOW CAN I WATCH BOTH RACES?
Eurosport have you covered for both races. Men’s coverage will run from 12:00 to 16:35 while women’s coverage runs from 15:15 to 17:45, all UK time. You can also watch the races on discovery+ and GCN+.
WHO WON LAST YEAR?
A thrilling finale last year saw seven riders compete for the win as Belgium’s Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) came out on top ahead of fellow fastmen Giacomo Nizzolo, Matteo Trentin, Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews. Stefan Kung took sixth ahead of Van Aert’s teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck after the latter had led the chase on Kung following the Swiss powerhouse’s last-ditch attack with 2.5km to go.
The race lived up to its bogus billing with strong winds playing havoc early on before viewers were treated to the unsavoury sight of Ireland’s Sam Bennett vomiting as he tried in vain to stay in touch with the leaders over the final climbs.
Marianne Vos powered to victory in the women’s event in 2021. The Dutch superstar from Team Jumbo-Visma out-kicked Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky and Germany’s Lisa Brennauer in a bunch sprint.
WHO IS RACING GENT-WEVELGEM IN 2022?
Defending champion Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) returns with support from team-mates Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte, while Dutch sprinter Fabio Jakobsen is part of a strong Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team that also includes Kasper Asgreen, Davide Ballerini and Yves Lampaert.
Fast finishers to watch out for are Alexander Kristoff (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hanshrohe), Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ), Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), John Degenkolb (Team DSM), Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen (both Trek-Segafredo), Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Alex Aranburu (Movistar) and the three-time champion Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies).
Milan-San Remo champion Matej Mohoric features for Bahrain-Victorious although it’s likely he will ride in support of veteran Australian classics man Heinrich Haussler. British hopes lie largely with Ineos Grenadiers trio Ben Swift, Ben Turner and Luke Rowe, although the team’s focal point may lie with Dylan van Baarle, Jhonatan Narvaez, Filippo Ganna or their upcoming American star, Magnus Sheffield.
In the women’s race, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) returns for her second race of the season and will face stiff competition from Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx) and the in-form Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM). World champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) and 2018 winner Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) will also take to the start.
WHAT ARE THE ROUTES FOR THE 2022 EDITIONS?
Cobbles, plugstreets (or unpaved lanes), helligen, bergs, exposed roads, double-digit gradients, the Flemish flatlands – you name it, Gent-Wevelgem has it.
Starting at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, the 249km race starts by traversing the flat fields of Flanders for an opening foray towards the Belgian coast at De Panne where crosswinds have, in the past, torn through the peloton. The hills come after 150km with the Scherpenberg, Baneberg, Monteberg and Kemmelberg piling up before three sections of so-called plugstreets – or unpaved roads, the Flandrian equivalent of strade bianche – are packed into a hectic 5km phase where the race could explode.
With 45km remaining, the riders tackle the Monteberg/Kemmelberg combination for a second time before they return to the Scherpenberg and Baneberg ahead of the showpiece ascent of the cobbled Kemmelberg, this time from the other side. At just 800m long but with an average gradient of 10.1% and a maximum tilt of 23%, it’s no surprise Sam Bennett coughed up his lunch while trying to keep up with the leaders last year.
The dynamic changes for the last 30-odd kilometres, which are played out long, flat and straight exposed roads where the chasers can often see the leaders dangling out up the road during what often proves to be a cat-and-mouse finale. The home straight in Wevelgem is flat and usually invites an early dash to the line.
The women’s race is 159km long with a flat opening half followed by seven hills packed into a frantic 30km section. The last climb is the Kemmelberg before a flat 35km run in to the finish.
WHO WILL WIN?
After disappointment on the Italian Riviera, Wout van Aert will look to get back to winning ways in Flanders Week and he spearheads a strong Jumbo-Visma squad. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) should put up a spirited fight, although the sunny and clement weather may mean that the race is not that selective, thereby playing into the hands of the purer of sprinters. With two cards to play here in Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen, Alpecin-Fenix could prove the ones to beat.
With that in mind, it’s hard to look beyond the prolific Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) in the women’s race. The German is clearly the fastest finisher in the women’s peloton right now and while recent record here is not great, Wiebes finished runner-up behind Kirsten Wild in 2019. After finishing second on her previous two attempts, Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx) will hope it’s third time lucky. Expect a showdown between these two.
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