Last weekend’s Milan-San Remo provided a thrilling opener to the Classics season on our Fantasy Cycling game, and this weekend the action moves to Belgium for Gent-Wevelgem, the first of three cobbled races we’re featuring. It may not have the history or status of the other two – the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – but it promises to be a great race, and one that provides plenty to think about for your team selection. Here’s our preview.
Raced since 1934, Gent-Wevelgem was originally for juniors, then amateurs, with professionals allowed in when it resumed after a five-year gap during the Second World War. Nowadays, the event nowadays starts in Deinze, near Gent.
Unofficially, the race is known as the Sprinter’s Classic, but a glance at the list of recent winners – George Hincapie, Andreas Klier, Thor Hushovd, Marcus Burghardt, Oscar Freire, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bernie Eisel and defending champion Tom Boonen, all of whom are due to start on Sunday – gives you an idea of the kind of qualities it takes to triumph here.
Two of those riders, Boasson Hagen and Eisel, the latter placing third in Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, will be supporting Mark Cavendish who has made the race one of his big early-season targets and is looking to put the disappointment of last week’s Milan-San Remo behind him.
On Friday evening, the world champion tweeted that he’d undertaken a recce of the final 100km and that “it's mightily more difficult than the past! Should be a great race!”
He’s not wrong. The course has been subject to a number of changes over the years but was given a radical overhaul in 2010, and now features two ascents each of the Baneberg and Kemmelberg on a looping circuit between the 65km and 30km to go points of the 235km race.
The 11 numbered climbs of the day, all of them in the second half of the parcours, will provide plenty of opportunities for attacks, but there’s also plenty of potential for the wind to split the field earlier on in the day as the riders head west towards the coast before swinging back towards Wevelgem.
As a result, it could be a very select group that heads towards the finish after the final climb, the Monteberg, which comes 35km out – far enough to allow some to rejoin any lead group, although for others there will be nothing left in their legs.
As usual, there will be a battle to be near the front both at the start of the climbs and the cobbled sections, with the peloton perhaps more nervous than usual on this kind of race after a brutal E3 Harelbeke 48 hours earlier.
That race, won by Boonen in a photo finish from Freire, left David Millar and Jan Ghyselinck with suspected broken collarbones, Koen de Kort with cracked ribs and Carlos Barredo with a broken arm after he smashed into Fabian Cancellara, who had stopped for a wheel change.
Spartacus himself, who had suffered two crashes earlier, got back on his bike and chased down the lead group, but had nothing left to contest the finale.
Freire, Boonen and Cancellara look to be three of the form riders right now and have what it takes over this type of terrain, while Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb, two men who look certain to win a Classic at some point, are among the pick of the younger bunch; this could be a race though in which experience counts.
Full information on Sunday’s race can be found on the Flanders Classics website, which also has a link to an official iPhone app to help guide you through some of the races in the coming weeks
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.