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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

67th Gent-Wevelgem - PT

Belgium, April 6, 2005

Can Boonen do it again?

By Jeff Jones in Gent

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Davitamon)
Photo ©: AFP

After his impressively powerful ride to win Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) will line up at the start in Deinze for Wednesday's 67th Gent-Wevelgem as one of the top favourites. Boonen won this race comfortably last year, despite not being particularly good in the Ronde. 12 months on, he seems to be significantly stronger and if he has recovered from his efforts on Sunday, he and Quick.Step will be unbeatable.

Once again, the weather should play a significant role in this 208 km classic. Knowledgeable Belgian Het Nieuwsblad reporter Paul de Keyser told us on Sunday that it's almost a certain bet that the weather for the Ronde van Vlaanderen will be perfect, whereas De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem can often be wet and miserable. It looks to be the case again this year, as after the Ronde was blessed (or cursed, if you're a Belgian journalist) by 20 degree sunny temperatures and almost no wind, the weather changed for the worse on Monday, and is expected to continue in that vein throughout the week. The day of Gent-Wevelgem should be windy - particularly along the coast - and wet in the latter part of the day.

The wind and rain adds another dimension to the race, which is usually not that selective on its own. Two climbs of the Monteberg (148 and 169 km) and Kemmelberg (150 and 171 km) are the crucial points, but doing both the climb and descent of the Kemmel cobbles in the wet nearly always produces a selection and a crash. The strong head/crosswinds predicted for the coastal section, which starts at Oostende after 62 km and finishes at De Panne after 95 km, usually shreds the peloton into several groups, and in recent years it's often been Patrick Lefevere's Quick.Step team with the numbers up the front, doing the damage.

Anything can happen, and Quick.Step will find itself in fierce competition with Davitamon-Lotto, smarting from its recent losses, T-Mobile, which is searching for its first win of the season, Rabobank, and Discovery Channel, which possesses a past G-W winner in George Hincapie. Rabobank and Discovery both missed the winning break in the Ronde, and a disappointed Hincapie admitted that he was out of position on the Valkenberg with 32 km to go, when Boonen, Klier and Van Petegem cleared out and were next seen standing on the podium in Ninove. It's not a mistake Hincapie will want to make twice, and he will do his utmost to be in the front group on Wednesday when the inevitable split happens.

The Davitamon-Lotto boys will be counting on De Panne stage winner Tom Steels to carry the flag, supported by the supremely consistent Nico Mattan. Henk Vogels, Bert Roesems and Gert Steegmans should be able to provide support. T-Mobile includes 2003 winner Andreas Klier in its lineup. Klier beat Henk Vogels and Tom Boonen in a three man sprint, so he knows that it's possible...

Rabobank's answer to Tom Boonen will likely be Steven de Jongh, who typically performs well in bad weather conditions, although in a head-to-head sprint, the money would be on Boonen. Lampre's Alessandro Ballan was one of the leaders on Sunday, and he has been in top form over the last week, winning a stage and finishing second overall in De Panne. He can certainly sprint, although again, he would not want to be in the same group as Boonen if he was going for the win.

Chocolade Jacques-T Interim's hard man Nico Eeckhout had a disappointing Ronde, pulling out before the going got tough. But the 34 year-old nicknamed "Rambo" is likely to bounce back for Gent-Wevelgem, which he said is one of his goals for the season. Liberty Seguros isn't your typical classics team, but they've shown plenty of panache in recent races and have nearly always been in the early breaks. The question is, can they get their pocket sprinter Allan Davis to the line in the front group, so he can use his finishing kick to good advantage?

Landbouwkrediet-Colnago has been lurking in the wings in the classics so far, typically outgunned for the finale. With Ludo Dierckxsens and Ludovic Capelle, they have a chance. CSC hasn't had a great classics season so far. Their most experienced classics rider Lars Michaelsen had wheel problems before the Paterberg in the Ronde on Sunday, and didn't get it changed until much later. Although he was in the lead group again by the Valkenberg, he was also surprised by the winning move, and missed it. Michaelsen won Gent-Wevelgem in 1995, so he certainly knows the race.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) was up there in the Ronde for a while, eventually finishing 31st. With fewer climbs in Gent-Wevelgem, Hushovd is another candidate to make the final cut and be there for the finish. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) showed himself on the Foreest climb in the Ronde, but was caught and finally came in 16th. He is nearly always up there in these races, and will be aiming to do so again in G-W.

Live coverage

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).