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71st Gent-Wevelgem - ProT

Belgium, April 8, 2009

Cavendish favoured but Boonen could bounce back

By Bjorn Haake

A show of muscle: Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad)
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Rarely is there such a clear favourite as Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) will be Wednesday at Gent-Wevelgem. The 203-kilometre race often ends in a bunch sprint, thanks to flat terrain which is interrupted only by the Monteberg/Kemmelberg combo that has to be completed twice by the peloton.

Cavendish showed at Milano-Sanremo and Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde that he is currently the world's fastest sprinter. The Manxman also displayed his climbing capabilities when he gave chase over the very same Kemmelberg that punctuates Gent-Wevelgem during De Panne's second stage.

Cavendish admitted having a plan last week when he rode after Tom Boonen (Quick Step) over the cobbled climb. "I wanted to do a test and see how to position myself on the Kemmelberg," he said. The test seemed to have succeeded and even if the race should split over the Kemmelberg, expect Cavendish amongst the frontrunners.

The sprinters won't just be watching Cavendish vanish towards the line, as sprinting is a millimetre business and small mistakes can massively alter the result. So Boonen surely will be there, trying to undo his mistake in the E3 Prijs when he lost a three-up sprint against Filippo Pozzato (Katusha).

Quick Step is strong, but can Tom Boonen beat Mark Cavendish?
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is not defending his title in Gent-Wevelgem this year, but teammate Graeme Brown will be itching to continue his good 2009 season. The Australian has already four wins, including the Nokere Koerse, which should be good preparation for Wevelgem.

Michele Bartoli's observations

"The course is more or less simple: there is always the wind from off the coast mid-race, an escape goes clear and then the Kemmelberg.

"Right after the start, you won't know who will win, but you will know who will lose. There are usually 30 or 40 riders who form a big move and it is those riders who go on to contest the win.

"I think that it is the only one of these Classics where the sprinters can shine. Maybe Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd or Danilo Napolitano; it is open to the non-Classics specialists."

Milram is pinning its hopes on Gerald Ciolek and Robert Förster should another bunch affair eventuate, while Garmin-Slipstream also banks on a duo in Julian Dean and Tyler Farrar. Cervélo TestTeam has two options with Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler, who has already lost one classic by the narrowest of margins to Cavendish. Other fast men include Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Aurélien Clerc (AG2R La Mondiale) and Kenny Dehaes (Katusha).

The race's dynamics will change if a group goes away, which could include Bernhard Eisel (Columbia-Highroad), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) or a number of the above mentioned sprinters. One of the deciding factors will be how the Ronde participants have recovered from the efforts just three days earlier.

Flat out to the finish

Filippo Pozzato (Team Katusha) won the three-man sprint in the E3 Prijs
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Gent-Wevelgem starts in Deinze, some 15 kilometres south-west of Gent. The route heads towards the coast on roads that many will be familiar with, having been used in De Panne just last week.

The race is mostly flat, with a loop containing the Monteberg and the Kemmelberg to be completed twice mid-way through the race (kilometres 137-167). The Kemmelberg is notorious for some spectacular crashes, to the dismay of riders. Organisers have played with the route in recent years, to slow the riders down and to make the descent as cobble-free as they could. The descent to be used this year is very narrow, meaning riders will need to keep their wits about them as crashes are not impossible.