Gent-Wevelgem 2018 Preview

By David Hunter

Deinze – Wevelgem 250km

Time for the Kemmel!

A race that is loved by many, it is one that I really look forward to. Many things make this race hard, the distance is one of them. 250km is a long day in the saddle, especially on narrow roads with a nervous bunch. We always see lots of crashes and this usually has a big impact on the race.

The climbing begins after 130km. As the wind conditions look calm, the opening of the race should be easy. This is where it is very important for the riders to eat and drink.

Once we hit the climbs, the real racing begins. We have two ascents of the Kemmelberg, this is the main climb of the day. First time round, the bunch is still big and this is where a lot of riders start to lose contact. During this phase of the race, some teams will want to make the racing hard and try to make some teams lose domestiques.

The next phase of the race is the climb of the Baneberg and Kemmelberg(harder side). This is where the race can be lost. First up is the incredibly narrow climb of the Baneberg, which is 300m at 10%. The length of the climb makes it unlikely we’ll see attacks. Once over the top, the positioning battle for the Kemmel is on. The road is very narrow, once at the front, no one is getting past you. It is hugely important to have a few domestiques to help you get to the front.

Once on the Kemmel, it’s up to each of the team leaders. At this point of the race, the climb is very difficult(400m at 11.5%) and we always see some big gaps. Once down the other side, the lead groups look around and decide on the strategy for the final 35km of the race.

Sprint Or No Sprint?

The last time we had a sprint, it was back in 2014. Since then, the course has been made harder with the tougher side of the Kemmelberg being added. Basically, this stops it from being a sprint. Even if a team is lucky enough to have two domestiques left to chase, the riders at the front of the race are too strong to be caught. This race will not end in a sprint.

Weather

Cloudy, but dry. The wind is coming from the north, but it doesn’t look strong enough to have an impact on the race.

Contenders – The Usual Suspects

Peter Sagan – looked a shadow of himself in E3. Yes, he crashed early in the race, but it seemed that his legs weren’t there. This is a race which suits Sagan’s characteristics, he’s won it on two occasions. As much of the race is about the final climb of the Kemmel, he has a great chance. Sagan always seems to fly up this climb, but positioning will be important. Once over the top, we’ll have to see how he approaches the end of the race. After making a mess of it in 2017, I wonder what his approach will be this year.

Greg Van Avermaet – super strong in E3. Despite emptying the tank, he could still sprint to 3rd place. After a sluggish start to the year, Van Avermaet now seems to have the legs he hoped for. As the defending champion there will be some extra pressure on his shoulders, but his team look very strong. Just like in E3, he will hope that Roelandts and Küng can go deep into this race. Van Avermaet is faster than most others in a sprint, but BMC will need to eliminate all of the sprinters.

Edward Theuns – I’m really excited to see what Eddie can do. He has started the season with good legs and these are his races! Team Sunweb arrive with a couple of cards to play, as they have Theuns and Matthews. Both riders have a fast sprint, but they can also attack. I hope we’ll see both riders given the opportunity to attack, it would be foolish to hold one of them back for a sprint.

John Degenkolb – last year, he was the only rider to stay in contact with Van Avermaet and Sagan over the Kemmel. I was hugely impressed! This season has been a slow burner, but these are the races Degenkolb wants to be peaking for. He worked for Stuyven in E3, I would imagine that Stuyven will now return the favour. If they two of them make the front group, they’ll be hard to beat.

Oli Naesen – 4th in E3 was good, but he’ll still be disappointed. AG2R had to do a lot of the chasing, after the huge crash. In this race, their main job will be to keep Naesen in a good position, especially as they approach the Kemmel. After a tremendous 2017, Oli will be keen to take a landmark win. The legs are strong, he just needs to get the tactics right.

Matteo Trentin – I was really impressed by his performance in E3. After a long time as a domestique, he is eventually getting his chance in these races. His bosses will have been happy with E3, especially as this race suits him better. Trentin has a very fast sprint, something that his rivals will be scared of.

Sonny Colbrelli – disappointed in E3, but this race is better for him. Bahrain have enjoyed a very strong season, it will be interesting to see how Colbrelli tackles the final 50km. If he makes the front group, the others will be scared of his sprint. He might need to have the legs to chase down a few attacks, if he wants the race to end in a sprint. This is something he didn’t do in Omloop and look what happened!

Michael Valgren – wasn’t to be for him in E3, but that will make him more determined for this one. I hope his team decide to throw all their energy behind him, I don’t think Cort has a realistic chance of taking the win. As he already has a big win this year, he can ride each race with freedom, something that makes him very dangerous.

Gianni Moscon – strong in E3, but he is still a little under his rivals. Team Sky were almost non existent on Friday, they’ll need to step it up in this race.

QuickStep – the Belgians are back to their brilliant best! The nailed the tactics in E3, with Terpstra taking a huge win. Considering how deep he had to go, I doubt he’ll have the energy to contend in this race. Instead, they will look towards Gilbert and Stybar. Both had a large part to play in the Terpstra win, covering every attack from the peloton. No doubt, Gilbert will be the main card in this race, I can’t wait to see him on the Kemmel. It will be interesting to see how the squad approach the race, I don’t think they’ll happily wait until the final climb, they will make this a hard race. Stybar attacked in the plugstreets in 2017, I think we could see a similar move from him this year. The team also have Viviani, just in case it comes back together for an unlikely sprint.

Prediction Time

QuickStep to do it again. Once a small group goes away on the Kemmel, I think Philippe Gilbert will be the man to get his tactics right in the closing kilometres.

David Hunter

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