Ypres > Wevelgem 260.8km
Sitting between E3 and Flanders is Gent-Wevelgem, a race that offers so much to so many, but it often leads to disappointment. This is the one the sprinters think they can win, and it is possible, but it’s funny how this race always seems to throw obstacles in their way.
Lots and lots of rain. The cobbles on the Kemmel are going to be a nightmare. The wind will gradually strengthen throughout the day, but won’t have as much of an impact compared to usual.
Monteberg, Kemmelberg, Baneberg and back to the Kemmelberg, but this time from the hardest side. It’s a tough series of climbs.
A strong headwind after the Kemmel, all the way to Ypres, which is great news for the chasing peloton. Once the riders turn right and head to Kortrijk, they are faced with a strong crosswind from the left. This section of road doesn’t look like much, but this is where the winning move can go, as long as it contains the right mix of riders.
Most of the “big” names are sitting this one out, but not Wout Van Aert. He always lights up this race, no one can match him on the Kemmelberg, but how are Jumbo-Visma going to approach the day?
Their squad for this race isn’t as strong as it was in E3, they bring in Roosen, Van Emden and Tim Van Dijke. These guys are solid riders, but they aren’t winners, which means the team are looking to run a more conventional race. Having Kooij is interesting, he’ll be held back in case we get a biggish sprint, allowing Van Aert, Laporte and Van Hooydonck opportunities to attack.
What is certain is the Van Aert attack last time up the Kemmelberg, he’ll fly away and a small group of favourites will join him on the road to Ypres. The headwind isn’t ideal, but if this front group are happy to work together, it would take a huge effort from the peloton to chase them down. The problem with everyone working is the presence of multiple Jumbo-Visma riders, say Laporte also makes the move, the group could well start to look at the Jumbo-Visma riders and force them to do more.
What happens next depends on the size of the peloton. Teams like Alpecin-Deceuninck, Lotto and Soudal – Quick Step will all be looking to make the race end in a sprint, but after a day of pouring rain, how many men will be left to chase? For me, this is what will shape the rest of the race. If Jumbo-Visma are feeling particularly wicked, they’ll make the middle section of the race hard, putting domestiques into difficulty, meaning fewer men to chase in the finale.
How do Alpecin go about ensuring a sprint for Philipsen? Simple, Kragh needs to make the front group after the Kemmel and refuse to work, but Philipsen’s group can’t be too far back as I think only Gianni Vermeersch will be there to pull on the front. I don’t think Soudal – Quick Step have this option as I can’t see any of their group going with Van Aert. They need to stick together as a bunch, hoping to have four riders beside Merlier, and then chase after the Kemmel. For them, an easy day up to this point would be beneficial, it would help save legs for the frantic chase in the closing stages. As usual, the race is delicately balanced, which is why it’s such a good one to watch.
Wout Van Aert – wasn’t at his very best in E3, but still won, not many can do that. As I’ve already mentioned, no one can get close to him on the Kemmel, the wet cobbles could even widen the usual gaps. Last year, Van Aert started the final climb in a poor position, but still distanced everyone else, this year he needs to make sure he’s right at the front for it. The problem he has is going too fast, he needs other riders to join him due to the headwind, going solo is fraught with danger. He starts as the favourite, which I understand, but I get the feeling he’d be more than happy if one of his teammates won.
Jasper Philipsen – on brilliant form just now, this race is a big target for him. Alpecin arrive with a decent team, but not as strong as some others. It would take an incredible ride by most of their domestiques to still be in the race for the finale, a lot will depend on Vermeersch. Philipsen showed in De Panne that he doesn’t mind a bit of rain, he’ll hope the race isn’t too selective, he needs teammates to chase.
Tim Merlier – another sprinter on flying form just now. Win this race and he’ll start to believe that the team will take him to the Tour de France, not Jakobsen. The Belgian is another who won’t mind the weather, but the team know he’s going to lose ground last time up the Kemmel, how can they combat this? As I’ve mentioned already, they should keep as many men beside him as possible, then smash the chase. Looking at the strength of their team, and their rivals, Merlier is their best chance of winning the race, all resources should be at his disposal.
Mads Pedersen – a sprint after a tough day in the saddle, perfect for Mads. He won here in 2020, it’s a race that suits his characteristics. With Stuyven, Theuns and Kirsch to support, he should be in the mix come the finale, but will he wait for the sprint or try to follow the best on the Kemmel? This is a tricky decision to make, I look forward to seeing what he decides to do.
Olav Kooij – sit in the peloton, do nothing, and see if it ends in a sprint. If so, Jumbo-Visma will go all in for their young superstar.
Arnaud De Lie – did someone say young superstar? I didn’t think he’d do anything in Sanremo, but this race is a different story. I still have concerns about the length, it’s not easy for someone so young to have good legs after 260km, but he has a chance.
Christophe Laporte – should have won last year, I don’t care what you say! I still can’t believe a rider with his experience got stuck on the front and had to lead out the sprint. Illness has meant he hasn’t raced a lot this year, but coming in fresh has advantages. Laporte should be one of the best on the Kemmel, if he gets in a strong group with Van Aert, he’ll have a chance of nipping off the front and going for the win.
Søren Kragh – I was really impressed by his performance in E3, a welcome return to form. He comes into this race with a chance to ride for himself, but the team also have Philipsen for a sprint finish. If Kragh can get into the front group in the finale, it will be interesting to see if he is ordered to sit on, and try to ensure a sprint finish, it would make sense if outnumbered by Jumbo-Visma riders.
Stefan Küng – becoming the new Mr. Consistent in the classics. Race after race, he’s up there in the top 10, but winning is very difficult as he doesn’t have a sprint. Küng will hope to follow the best up the Kemmel and somehow manufacture an opportunity for himself as the bunch head towards the finish. The problem is, he needs to go solo, and that isn’t easy.
Matej Mohorič – another who is going very well just now. He won’t mind the rain, or the distance, he goes very well in these conditions.
Filippo Ganna – an excellent performance in Sanremo, followed up by a promising ride in E3, things are looking good at this point in time for the Italian. Despite climbing well, he won’t be able to follow the best, last time up the Kemmel, he’ll have to hope it comes back together and he can force a small group off the front.
The rain should help make this a selective day, I can’t help but think the sprinters will be disappointed.
I think Jumbo-Visma will have two or three riders in the front group after the Kemmel, and Christophe Laporte will nip off the front and take the win.
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