The route of the 208 km semi-classic' from Gent to Wevelgem won't go into France this year. Kemmelberg, the last climb, is situated 33 km from the finish and there's a big possibility of a mass sprint. Among the favourites are Belgians Wilfried Nelissen, Johan Museeuw and Tom Steels with foreign opposition from the winner 1995 Lars Michaelsen (Den), Djamolidine Abdujaparov (Uzb), Fabio Baldato (Ita), Jan Svorada (Cze), Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned) and Andrej Tchmil (Ukr).
Maurizio Fondriest, second in 1995, will also be absent, he's at the moment riding in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco.
Another rider on the sick list is Rolf Sorensen who had a bad fall in Ronde van Vlaanderen and injured his left hand. The first x-rays showed no fracture but he was in terrible pain and unable to start in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. He has now gone to Italy for a new examination.
1995 Lars Michaelsen (Den) 1994 Wilfried Peeters (Bel) 1993 Mario Cipollini (Ita) 1992* Mario Cipollini (Ita) 1991 Djamolidine Abdujaparov (Uzb) 1990 Herman Frison (Bel) 1989 Gerrit Solleveld (Ned) 1988 Sean Kelly (Irl) 1987 Teun Van Vliet (Ned) 1984 Guido Bontempi (Ita) 1983 Leo Van Vliet (Ned) 1982 Frank Hoste (Bel) 1981 Jan Raas (Ned) 1980 Henk Lubberding (Ned) 1979 Francesco Moser (Ita) 1978 Ferdi Van Den Haute (Bel) 1977 Bernard Hinault (F) 1976 Freddy Maertens (Bel) 1975 Freddy Maertens (Bel) 1974 Barry Hoban (Eng) 1973 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1972* Roger Swerts (Bel) 1971 Georges Pintens (Bel) 1970 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1969 Willy Vekemans (Bel) 1968 Walter Godefroot (Bel) 1967 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1966 Herman Van Springel (Bel) 1965 Noel De Pauw (Bel) 1964 Benoni Beheyt (Bel) 1962 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1961 Frans Aerenhouts (Bel) 1960 Frans Aerenhouts (Bel) 1959 Leon Van Daele (Bel) 1958 Noel Fore (Bel) 1957 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1956 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1955 Briek Schotte (Bel) 1954 Rolf Graf (Sch) 1953 Raymond Impanis (Bel) 1952 Raymond Impanis (Bel) 1951 Andre Rosseel (Bel) 1950 Briek Schotte (Bel) 1949 Marcel Kint (Bel) 1948 Valere Ollivier (Bel) 1947 Maurice Desimpelaere (Bel) 1946 Ernest Sterckx (Bel) 1945 Robert Van Eenaeme (Bel) 1939 Andre Declerck (Bel) 1938 Hubert Godart (Bel) 1937 Robert Van Eenaeme (Bel) 1936 Robert Van Eenaeme (Bel) 1935 Albert Depreitre (Bel) 1934 Gustave Van Belle (Bel) 1992* Djamolidine Abdujaparov disqualified 1972* Frans Verbeeck disqualified
MG-TECHNOGYM: Baldato, Fontanelli, Jaermann MAPEI-GB: Museeuw, Steels, Ballerini, Bortolami, Peeters SAECO: Martinello, Fagnini, Scirea*** POLTI: Pianegonda, Lombardi, Guesdon PANARIA: Serpellini, Bramati, Baronti FESTINA: Michaelsen, Brochard, Magnien LOTTO: Nelissen, Tchmil, Farazijn RABOBANK: Ekimov, Van Hooydonck, Van Bon TVM: Blijlevens, Van Petegem, Hoffman REFIN: Abdujaparov, Planckaert, Roscioli MOTOROLA: Sciandri, Yates, Fraser GAN: Moncassin, O'Grady, Moreau, Seigneur, Vasseur TELEKOM: Zabel, Ludwig, Aldag CARRERA: Zberg, Fidanza, Traversoni SAN MARCO: Missaglia, Vanderaerden, Arazzi AKI: Tomi, Zanette, Delphis ROSLOTTO: Lino, Davidenko, Manzoni BRESCIALAT: Strazzer, Jaskula, Milesi FORELDORADO: Bouwmans, Veenstra, Talen COLLSTRIOP: Capiot, Mulders, Heyndrickx VLAANDEREN 2002: Aerts, Verstrepen PALMANS: Koerts, Vandaele IPSO-ASFRA: De Smet, K. Van Lancker VOSSCHEMIE-ZETELHALLEN: Van Haecke, Van Brabant TONNISTEINER-SAXON: Dierckxens, Willems ***Cipollini is out of action with tendinitis and will have to miss Paris--Roubaix as well.
According to preliminary, and unconfirmed, reports Wilfried Nelissen crashed badly and is in hospital in Gent with a broken pelvis and a broken nose.
Also preliminary and unconfirmed: Maximilian Sciandri also fell badly and may have broken his foot.
1. Tom Steels (Bel) Mapei-GB 4.53.00. (41,74 km/h) 2. Giovanni Lombardi (Ita) Team Polti 3. Fabio Baldato (Ita) MG-Technogym 4. Lars Michaelsen (Den) Festina 5. Leon van Bon (Ned) Rabobank 6. Bruno Boscardin (Ita) Festina 7. Massimo Strazzer (Ita) Brescialat 8. Johan Capiot (Bel) Collstrop 9. Andrej Tchmil (Ukr) Lotto 10. Silvio Martinello (Ita) Saeco 11. Erik Zabel (Ger) Telekom 12. Mario Traversoni (Ita) Carrera 13. Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned) TVM 14. Peter van Petegem (Bel) TVM 15. Emmanuel Magnien (Fra) Festina 16. George Hincapie (USA) Motorola 17. Wiebren Veenstra (Ned) Foreldorado 18. Tom Desmet (Bel) Collstrop 19. Michelangelo Cauz (Ita) Aki 20. Frederic Moncassin (Fra) Gan 21. Kaspars Ozers (Let) Motorola 22. Marco Milesi (Ita) Brescialat 23. Fabio Roscioli (Ita) Refin 24. Wim Vansevenant (Bel) Vlaanderen 2002 25. Hendrik Redant (Bel) TVM 26. Claudio Camin (Ita) Brescialat 27. Arvis Piziks (Let) Rabobank 28. Tristan Hoffman (Ned) TVM 29. Andrea Peron (Ita) Motorola 30. Peter Farazijn (Bel) Lotto all s.t. also 47. Pascal Lino (Fr, Roslotto-ZG Mobili) ...... 52. Eddy Seigneur (Fr, GAN) 53. Laurent Brochard (Fr, Festina) ...... 73. Cedric Vasseur (Fr, GAN) and the rest of the peloton, all s.t. 181 starters, 109 finishers
The real action of the day started at the first of two climbs of the Kemmelberg (km 152) when Johan Museeuw, Franco Ballerini and Olaf Ludwig went away. The trio had at most a lead of 31 seconds until Djamolidine Abdujaparov counter-attacked on the penultimate climb, the Molenberg (km 173).
On the second climb of the Kemmelberg, 33 km from the finish, the peloton regrouped.
At 25 km from the finish a group of eleven riders went away but was never more than 16 seconds ahead and were caught just before the finish.
Wilfried Nelissens (Belgium, Lotto) race ended after only eight kilometres when he crashed badly and suffered multiple fractures. He broke his shinbone and thighbone and fractured a kneecap. He is out for the rest of the season, possibly much longer.
Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke. "That means there are several open fractures. He also has a fractured femur. He lost a litre of blood but hasn't had any major problems with his blood pressure."
The race caught fire on the first climb of the Kemmelberg, 56km from the finish when Mapei-GB's Johan Museeuw and Franco Ballerini put in a vicious attack which left everybody except Olaf Ludwig (Telekom) floundering. On the second ascent of the 18% cobbled climb, a few more riders gathered their forces. Andrei Tchmil (Lotto) put in an effort and Frederic Moncassin (GAN) -- despite his reputation for never having been first over even a railway bridge in the whole of his career -- went with him. In the short but tricky descent, Tchmil and Moncassin, together with Bruno Boscardin (Festina) joined up with the leading trio.
At 28km to Wevelgem, the break had swollen to 11, but both Museeuw and Ludwig had dropped back, possibly intentionally. The 11: Ballerini, Gianluca Bortolami (Mapei-GB), Emmanuel Magnien (Festina), Fabiano Fontanelli and Rolf Jaermann (MG-Technogym), Moncassin, Mario Scirea (Saeco), Tristan Hoffman (TVM), Gianluca Pianegonda and Gianluca Gorini (Aki).
The gap to the peloton, which was being put to work by Ceramiche Refin (Djamolidin Abdujaparov could be heard urging on team-mate Asiat Saitov) varied between 15 and 20 seconds. Telekom then took on the chasing role, with Ludwig now working for Erik Zabel. Further on, Edwig Van Hooydonck put in a long effort. seemingly trying himself out for Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.
The break was picked up less than 3km from the line. But before the junction was made, Mapei-GB, with Ballerini and Bortolami in the break and Museeuw in reserve had worked out how to lay down its fourth ace. "Go tell Steels that we're backing everything on him," directeur-sportif Patrick Lefevere told 1994 winner Wilfried Peeters through his radio earpiece. Ludwig Willems and Bart Leysen were then seen going to fetch Tom Steels and lauch him to the head of the peloton at 60kph. Steels says he was telling himself: "Don't panic, you've won sprints like this before."
With more than 100 riders bearing down on Wevelgem's long Vanackerestraat there were a number of sprinters' stories. One was Boscardin's. Capable of doing the job himself he rather looked about for team-mate Lars Michaelsen, last year's winner. It didn't work out. "I went off down the left," said Boscardin, "Michaelsen was over on the far right.". Steels was modest in victory. "If I didn't have such a good team around me," he said, "I'd only be a middling-good sprinter." Sunday he starts his first Paris-Roubaix....
Paris-Roubaix.... In the 1970s, when Gent-Wevelgem ran to 260km (it was cut down to its present size when it became subordinate to the World Cup races) Roger De Vlaeminck had a scary habit with the Hell of the North in view. At the finish of Gent-Wevelgem, he'd skip the showers, just have his face wiped and set off to add another 100km to the day's work. This was, the four-time winner of Paris- Roubaix said, the price you had to pay if you really wanted to be flying on the cobbles four days later.
Old habits die hard. While Steels was telling the press how he'd won, Frederic Moncassin and the rest of the GAN team were pedalling off on the 75km route to their Paris-Roubaix base at Valenciennes. Watching them from Roger Legeay's following car, the experienced eye of Hell of the North "Professeur" Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle.