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64th Gent-Wevelgem - 1.HC
Belgium, April 10, 2002
By Jeff Jones
Positioned midway between the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix is the semi-classic Gent-Wevelgem, which celebrates its 64th running this year. Starting near the centre of the "student city" of Gent, the race makes its way out to the west coast of Flanders via Brugge, passing through the coastal towns of Oostende, Koksijde and De Panne, before continuing south and inland via Poperinge to the Kemmelberg, the main climb of the race. The riders have to tackle this cobbled monster twice before they head back towards Wevelgem, with 207 kilometres in their legs.
This year, the Kemmelberg has been moved closer to the finish, but there is still 35 kilometres of flat terrain between the top of the Kemmel and Wevelgem. It is considered a sprinter's classic, although last year a break did manage to get away and deny the sprinters their glory.
At the end of that breakaway, George Hincapie (USPS) won an incredibly close sprint from Leon Van Bon to take his first ever classic victory, and he will be lining up in Gent's Citadelpark with at least some ambitions to defend his win. However, after a 4th place in last Sunday's Ronde, Hincapie's sights are clearly set on Paris-Roubaix this weekend. Again he will be aided by Lance Armstrong and the rest of the very capable US Postal team.
Should the peloton come back together after the Kemmelberg, there are two standouts in the field to take the bunch sprint. Mario Cipollini (Acqua e Sapone) and Erik Zabel (Telekom) are two of the world's top sprinters, and while Mario got one over Erik for 9th place last Sunday, you can be sure that the battle will be close if first prize is on the line. It will be Mario's last appearance in the spring classics, and probably the last time we see him wearing the World Cup jersey this year.
Don't rule out 1996 winner Tom Steels (Mapei) either, who had a lot of bad luck in the Ronde but may be able to get it together for an unexpected win. Steels has some excellent support, if it comes down to it, with Stefano Zanini a handy reserve sprinter, along with Bodrogi, De Waele, Hunter, Nardello and Tafi.
The same goes for Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), winner of 10 races so far this year, although he has yet to open his account in Belgium. Fassa can also rely on Baldato, Konyshev, Ivanov, Bartoli and Petito.
The Belgian teams Lotto-Adecco and Domo-Farm Frites are still smarting from Sunday's loss. Domo's Johan Museeuw's immediate reaction after coming 2nd in the Ronde was "I'll stop. This is my last race," or words to that effect. After drinking a bottle of wine with his DS Patrick Lefevere, talking it over with his wife, Veronique, and being bombarded by fans who say that he must go on, Johan will start both Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
In fact, Johan has threatened to retire so many times that it will be a shock when he finally does so. In 1996, seven days before winning the World Championships, he said he would hang up his wheels. Age hasn't wearied him, as evidenced last Sunday.
Don't forget Fred Rodriguez (Domo) either. The US champion is having a solid early season in the classics, and is often there when it counts.
Peter Van Petegem (Lotto) can also be considered amongst the favourites for Gent-Wevelgem, but there will have to be some serious action on the Kemmel if he is to get away in a small group. Lotto also have sprinter Stefan Van Dijk, who is not a match for Cipollini and Zabel, but may come in handy in the finale.
Nico Mattan, Chris Peers and Jo Planckaert will be on the line for Cofidis in Gent-Wevelgem. Peers must be facing the race with trepidation, as he was involved in a crash on the descent of the Kemmelberg last Wednesday during stage 2 of the Driedaagse van De Panne. He finished up so bruised and battered that he couldn't start in the Ronde. However, he's back tomorrow, with the help of wonder therapist Lieven Maesschalck.
Lampre-Daikin's hopes will rest on the affable Ludo Dierckxsens, who didn't have a brilliant day last Sunday. He too has his sights on Roubaix, and will be using this race more for training. Andrej Hauptman and Gianluca Bortolami are the men to look for in the Tacconi Sport colours, with the Slovenian Hauptman always up there in the sprints.
CSC-Tiscali would dearly love a classic win. They have former winner Geert Van Bondt, along with Tristan Hoffman, Paul Van Hyfte, Nicolas Jalabert and Arvis Piziks - who was involved in last year's break. Team Coast's Lars Michaelsen won this race in 1995, and both he and Danish teammate Frank Høj are in good shape for this race.
Watch out for Alessio as well. Ignored by the organisers of Flanders and Roubaix, the team of Dario Pieri, David Casarotti and Martin Hvastija should feature in the action. Finally, remember the name of Matthew Wilson (Francaise des Jeux). The Australian who was one of three Aussie 'Matts' in Flanders, finished 20th in his first outing there. Although Gent-Wevelgem may not be his style, we'll certainly see a lot more of him in future.
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