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66th Gent-Wevelgem - 1.HC
Belgium, April 7, 2004
By Jeff Jones
With the strong 50 km/h NW winds predicted to continue through the week, this year's edition of Gent-Wevelgem will be another severe test for the northern classics specialists. Although there are far fewer climbs than in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the race will likely split to pieces once it hits Oostende and makes its way down the Flemish coastline to De Panne. Those who survive the crosswinds still have to negotiate two ascents of the notorious Kemmelberg, before starting the final tailwind run back to Wevelgem.
For the second time in a row, the race will start in Deinze's Grote Markt, a change from the old start in Gent's Citadelpark. Although not quite as scenic as Gent, the start in Deinze will no doubt attract throngs of people, eager for a photo or autograph from one of the stars.
Who will be there this year? Normally, riders who do the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix also include Gent-Wevelgem on their program, depending on their condition and ambitions. Last year's winner was Andreas Klier (T-Mobile), who beat Henk Vogels and Tom Boonen in a three up sprint. Boonen and Quick.Step would like to turn the tables this year, after Sunday's Ronde didn't go quite according to plan. But Klier, who finished 6th in the Ronde, will also have the company of Ronde winner Steffen Wesemann, along with Sergei Ivanov and Daniele Nardello in his team, and T-Mobile will be a squad to watch closely.
Quick.Step-Davitamon will start with Tom Boonen, Stefano Zanini, Servais Knaven and Johan Museeuw, with the latter riding his last G-W and hoping to make it count. Paolo Bettini is noticeably absent from the Quick.Step roster. The Italian crashed badly in this race last year and missed the rest of the spring season. No unnecessary risks are being taken this year.
A look at the past winners list shows that Gent-Wevelgem is suited to the sprinters, and the start list for this year's race reveals a few candidates. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) was in one of the mid-race breaks in Flanders, and has proven that he can sprint as well as ride in the wind. In the absence of three time winner Mario Cipollini, Domina Vacanze will be looking for Giovanni Lombardi and Andrus Aug to bring home the bacon.
Lampre's sprinter Luciano Pagliarini will start, although Romans Vainsteins is probably a better candidate in the wind. Alessio-Bianchi will be relying on Fabio Baldato, who hasn't had the best of luck in this classics season. Rabobank's Oscar Freire is definitely a strong candidate, after his 23rd place in Flanders with a bloodied nose. He is in good shape at the moment, and may be able to add his name to the Gent-Wevelgem winners list. Failing that, Rabobank still has Steven de Jongh for a sprint.
US Postal-Berry Floor's director Dirk Demol says that the team is focusing more on Paris-Roubaix than Gent-Wevelgem, hence will replace Stijn Devolder with Ryder Hesjedal in the squad. 2001 winner George Hincapie remains, although his eyes will be looking towards Roubaix as well.
If he's recovered from his crash in the Ronde, Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) wants to have a try at winning this mid-week classic. Cooke had to have four stitches in his elbow after a crash, but will in all probability line up in Deinze for the start.
Last but not least, Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) showed in the Ronde that he is certainly good enough to make the selection in a 200 km classic, although he was not quite strong enough for the full 257 km of the Ronde. Kirsipuu can sprint and he is excellent in the wind. It could be his turn in Gent-Wevelgem this year.
Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 66th Gent-Wevelgem starting from 14:00 CEST (Europe)/8:00 EDT (USA)/5:00 PDT (USA)/22:00 AEST (Australia).
2003 Andreas Klier (Ger) Team Telekom 204 kms in 4.29.00 (45.502 km/h) 2002 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 207 kms in 4.39.00 (44.731 km/h) 2001 George Hincapie (USA) U.S. Postal Service 215 kms in 5.00.50 2000 Geert van Bondt (Bel) Farm Frites 214 kms in 5.01.03 1999 Tom Steels (Bel) Mapei-Quick Step 208 kms in 5.15.53 1998 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Mapei-Bricobi 208 kms in 5.21.21 1997 Philippe Gaumont (Fra) 1996 Tom Steels (Bel) 1995 Lars Michaelsen (Den) 1994 Wilfried Peeters (Bel) 1993 Mario Cipollini (Ita) 1992 Mario Cipollini (Ita) 1991 Djamolidine Abduschaparov (Usb) 1990 Herman Frison (Bel) 1989 Gerrit Solleveld (Ned) 1988 Sean Kelly (Ire) 1987 Teun Van Vliet (Ned) 1986 Guido Bontempi (Ita) 1985 Eric Vanderaerden (Bel) 1984 Guido Bontempi (Ita) 1983 Teun Van Vliet (Ned) 1982 Frank Hoste (Bel) 1981 Jan Raas (Ned) 1980 Henk Lubberding (Ned) 1979 Francesco Moser (Ita) 1978 Ferdinand Van den Haute (Bel) 1977 Bernard Hinault (Fra) 1976 Freddy Maertens (Bel) 1975 Freddy Maertens (Bel) 1974 Barry Hoban (GB) 1973 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1972 Roger Swerts (Bel) 1971 Georges Pintens (Bel) 1970 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1969 Willy Vekenmans (Bel) 1968 Walter Godefroot (Bel) 1967 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1966 Herman Vanspringel (Bel) 1965 Noél De Pauw (Bel) 1964 Jacques Anquetil (Fra) 1963 Benoni Beheyt (Bel) 1962 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1961 Frans Aerenhouts (Bel) 1960 Frans Aerenhouts (Bel) 1959 Leon Van Daele (Bel) 1958 Noél Fore (Bel) 1957 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1956 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1955 Alberic Schotte (Bel) 1954 Rolf Graf (Swi) 1953 Raymond Impanis (Bel) 1952 Raymond Impanis (Bel) 1951 André Rossel (Bel) 1950 Alberic Schotte (Bel) 1949 Marcel Kint (Bel) 1948 Valeré Ollivier (Bel) 1947 Maurice Desempelaere (Bel) 1946 Ernest Sterckx (Bel) 1945 Robert Van Eenaeme (Bel) 1939 André Declerck (Bel) 1938 Hubert Godart (Bel) 1937 Robert Van Eenaeme (Bel) 1936 Robert Van Eenaeme (Bel) 1935 Albert Debreitere (Bel) 1934 Gustave Van Belle (Bel) Past winners by Mario Stiehl, www.world-of-cycling.com