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Mont Ventoux
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68th Gent-Wevelgem - PT

Belgium, April 5, 2006

Flecha back for revenge in 2006

By Les Clarke

Mattan leads Flecha in 2005
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After being narrowly beaten by Davitamon-Lotto's Nico Mattan in last year's edition of Gent-Wevelgem, Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) will be out for revenge this year. The finale of last year's race was marred by controversy, and after joining Rabobank in the off-season it appears as though the Spaniard has most factors in his favour - except for one thing - the all-conquering Quick.Step team.

Following Filippo Pozzato's win in Milan-San Remo [where Boonen helped the Italian to the win] and Boonen's triumph last Sunday [where Pozzato helped the Belgian to the win] the pair have formed quite the combination; so much so that Boonen elaborated on the fact he'd be willing to "give a present back to" Pozzato in the form of a victory in the midweek classic. The sign of a man supremely confident in his own ability, surely.

The Belgian superstar may well be discounting other contenders for the win, including CSC's Fabian Cancellara, T-Mobile's Andreas Klier and Liquigas' Luca Paolini. Klier has stated that he's in good form, and will want to make amends after a serious crash during last year's race. Paolini is keen to make up for misfortune in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, where a puncture struck as Boonen attacked. The Quick.Step juggernaut will have to overcome the competition and the parcours, and although it isn't as openly challenging as the course for de Ronde, it offers plenty of hardship for riders already weary from a tough race just days earlier.

Flecha and Boonen
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Starting in Deinze, riders make their way west then north to Oostende before a south-westerly run along the coast to De Panne which signals the start of the south-east leg to Wevelgem. The drag race home is blocked by two major climbs - the Monteberg (148 and 169 km) and Kemmelberg (150 and 171 km), which come after the peloton has endured strong coastal winds on their dash along the coast. These winds usually tear the peloton to shreds and from there it's a matter of surviving and taking the right ride home.

During last year's race Pozzato and Boonen made it happen over the Monteberg and the tougher Kemmelberg, pouring on the pace and splitting the group that remained after the turn at De Panne. Pozzato was unlucky to crash with Bäckstedt, ruling him out of the running, and Boonen couldn't (or didn't) go with the final move after a triumphant first win of a double just three days earlier at the Tour of Flanders robbed him of energy in the closing stages. It was a two-man duel at the finish, and although Mattan returns in 2006 he doesn't look to be in the same form that saw him win last year. Flecha is very capable of the win, and will be watched heavily by the leading teams. His Rabobank team has the firepower to deliver him to the line, and will be keen to do so.

Along the coast
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And while the attention will be on the Rabobank, Quick.Step and Davitamon-Lotto teams, Allan Davis and the Liberty Seguros boys could fore their way into the reckoning; with Davis in good form and targeting the classics, the Australian sprinter could be a force come Wednesday afternoon - and would definitely have a big contingent of fans cheering for a win. The same can be said for Discovery Channel, who take a very strong squad into the race - Hincapie will be seeking redemption for missing out on Sunday while keeping one eye on Paris-Roubaix this weekend. He's joined by Leif Hoste and Stijn Devolder, with the latter at home in tough conditions - look for him to excel along the coast while Hoste could make this race his after taking second last Sunday.

One thing's for certain - whoever takes the win on Wednesday will have to work even harder than normal for victory, with a quality field and typically bad weather to contend with - according to those in the know, Belgian weather has its own dose of midweek blues when it comes to bike races, and Gent-Wevelgem is usually plagued by wet and windy conditions. But the riders should be spared the wet tomorrow, rather having to content with strong, cold winds from the northeast that will make for a fast and very selective race again. Could a new hardman be born, or will one of the superstars continue on his merry way?

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 68th Gent-Wevelgem live from 14:30 CEST/08:30 EDT (USA east)/05:30 PDT (USA west)/22:30 AEST (Australia east).