Preview. The 26th of March is a very important day this spring. As the riders have exactly one week to prepare for the Tour des Flandres, they take on what is the second longest cobbled classic of the season in Gent-Wevelgem, one of the most spectacular races of the spring.
Most of the 261-kilometer race is flat, not a hard profile which is the reason why in most years it is a reduced group sprint fighting it out for the win. The race is flat except for a hilly section which is based on three ascents of the Kemmelberg in which every year there are attacks, as well as new off-road sections which have been added in recent years.
Start Time: 11:00CET
Finish Time: 17:05CET
Profile & Route Gent-Wevelgem 2023
Through Belvedère, the riders will climb up twice. It’s a grueling ramp where many will suffer, splits will occur in the first time up with 85 kilometers to go. From there on there will be a few gravel sectors known as the ‘plugstreets’, which will see 4.1 kilometers where mishaps may happen, a game of luck essentially when it comes to mechanicals, with the last one finishing with 66 kilometers to go.
The second time up the Kemmelberg will be with 52 kilometers to go and in this time up attacks are certain as the classics riders will want to push on the pace to definitely drop the fast men, and make a definitive difference.
There are a couple of hilltops following, but the last place to make a difference based on power is the ascent to the Kemmelberg via the Ossuaire. It is a harder ascent, most of it on tarmac but with small-ring gradients before the riders hit the cobbles that go up to 18%. It’s a 30-second max effort where riders tend to crack near the summit, it comes with 34.5 kilometers to go.
From there on though there will be relief as much of the approach to Wevelgem is completely flat. There will be time to reorganize, put on a chase for both smaller and bigger groups. The race has a very interesting dynamic where the specialists and the sprinters try to balance the race towards their preferred direction, and it’s a race that usually sees different types of scenarios that lead to the win.
Rain is expected throughout the day in Flandres. As has been the case throughout the whole week it is predicted to be grim, as the wind will also blow. Early in the day from the west, making it a mostly headwind first half of the day. The wind slowly changes direction and comes from the north last on. I could see tail and crosswind sections before reaching the hills, but it's effect is more crucial afterwards. A headwind right after and then essentially a direct crosswind is expected. Not good news for the sprinters.
Final startlist Gent-Wevelgem with van Aert, Merlier, Jakobsen, Philipsen, Ganna, De Lie, Pedersen, Girmay, Cavendish
The Likely Attackers
Jumbo-Visma - Jumbo come in with a strong team. Three riders who can win in a sprint. Wout van Aert has only started his cobbled classics campaign yesterday and surely he will go on the attack, specially as the pressure is off. This is for testing and form. He should have total freedom as both Christophe Laporte and Olav Kooij are great options for a sprint. Nathan van Hooydonck's presence allows the team to open things up seriously from early on.
Matej Mohoric - Bahrain have a strong team with several options for a fast finish such as Fred Wright and Jonathan Milan. Mohoric himself has a strong sprint but he needs to attack likely to win such a race. The very long distances, mostly flat race but with a few decisive points are exactly where he thrives - if only there was a technical descent he'd be even more. Moreover, he may be a great ally for Jumbo-Visma to attack the race.
Filippo Ganna - INEOS have a strong team but form is unsure. The likes of Ben Turner, Magnus Sheffield, Michal Kwiatkowski and Jhonatan Narváez at their best could all go on the attack. However it's likely in Filippo Ganna that that hope lays. In the Kemmelberg he will likely struggle in the brutal gradients, but in the flat sections where attacks are expected the Italian can be very dangerous and very hard to reel back if he escapes.
Several riders can be present in attacks. Some teams will look to block the race however with counter-attacks so as to benefit their sprinters, however some will likely have ambition of truly going all the way to the line. UAE have legitimate ambitions with Tim Wellens and Matteo Trentin in the absence of the injured Molano. Sep Vanmarcke and Anthony Turgis will be further outsiders.
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Arnaud De Lie & Caleb Ewan - At his best this is a race for Caleb Ewan. He can surely go through the steep climbs, and with no big leadout he won't likely get caught out of position. The winds may be hard for him to handle if the race splits however. Arnaud De Lie the wonderkid is also present and will be a very dangerous rider, and will likely be part of the sprinter coalition.
Tim Merlier & Fabio Jakobsen - Quick-Step are under tremendous pressure. Mostly from the management and Lefevere himself, after a disappointing E3 Saxo Classic. Here they have better chances, Tim Merlier is the kind of sprinter that can resist this kind of races and have a strong sprint at the end. Fabio Jakobsen is likely to struggle in the climbs, but in case a relatively compact peloton can be kept, he's an option.. Yves Lampaert and Kasper Asgreen will look to counter moves and control the race for a sprint.
Jasper Philipsen - Alpecin are in a great dash of form and motivation. Philipsen included, he has just won two stages at Tirreno-Adriatico proving his sprinting form, and in De Panne from a small group sprint, showing he's more than just a sprinter. He will be the leader here. Alpecin don't have van der Poel present here but do have Soren Kragh Andersen who's in terrific form, he may cover attacks, attack himself or be incredibly valuable for a chase.
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Mads Pedersen - A 14th place yesterday at the E3 Saxo Classic isn't revealing of his form. Pedersen worked too much trying to bring back the decisive attacks and burnt himself. He's in great form, his performance in Sanremo is evidence of that. With such long distances and brutal weather conditions it'll be a good day for him to perform, whilst Trek also feature Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns as outsiders.
Biniam Girmay - The defending champion. Girmay's form doesn't seem as sharp as last year. The 22-year old will be motivated and the race suits him well but it'll be a difficult task. However Intermarché are an experienced lineup in this type of races and may help in controlling the race.
Sam Bennett - At his best Bennett has battled for this race. It won't be easy to do so now but BORA will back him. Jordi Meeus, Danny van Poppel and Marco Haller will all be options as well, and all-in for a sprint finish.
Fernando Gaviria & Ivan Cortina - Cortina has just ridden to fifth at the E3 Saxo Classic, revealing great form. Things may have fell into place for a motivated Spanish team. A good sprinter, the race suits him. Under a certain circumstance, Fernando Gaviria could also ride well and be an outsider.
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This was for many years a sprinter's race. It is becoming increasingly difficult to control it, however many fast men have made their way into Belgium for this one. Arnaud Démare, Dylan Groenewegen and Alexander Kristoff are among those that on a strong day could take the win here, but they will need a lot of hope.
Simone Consonni, Luca Mozzato, Pascal Ackermann and Peter Sagan are some of the other names who could benefit if they survive the hills and see it come down to a sprint.
Prediction Gent-Wevelgem 2023:
*** Wout van Aert, Jasper Philipsen
** Olav Kooij, Filippo Ganna, Tim Merlier, Mads Pedersen
* Christophe Laporte, Matej Mohoric, Arnaud De Lie, Caleb Ewan, Biniam Girmay, Ivan Cortina
Pick: Filippo Ganna