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69th Gent-Wevelgem - PT
Belgium, April 11, 2007
By Gregor Brown in Gent
The 69th edition of the Gent-Wevelgem is bookended by two monuments, Ronde and Roubaix, but still contains its own beauty and status. Cross-winds, cobbles and the climbs, Monteberg and Kemmel, shape this Semi-Classic of Flanders.
The parcours stays true to tradition; starting in Deinze (at 11.30), just south of Gent, where the race used to start in the Citadelpark. The riders, after being swarmed by the Belgian fans, will roll towards the coast, in a westerly direction, and face their first obstacle.
Winds define Belgian cyclists and make them the 'hard-men' of cycling. Riders will likely encounter head and sidewinds as they travel to Oostende, and then down the coast to De Panne. We should see an escape edge off the front in the 55 kilometre run to the coast while behind some riders (many of the non-Belgians) will suffer as the chase will form into echelons.
Leaving the coast, from De Panne, there will be 115 kilometres remaining, including two runnings of the Monteberg (km 151 and 172) and Kemmelberg (km 153 and 174). These little brutes, cobbled on the up and downhill, are usually wet and always precarious.
The bergs will serve to shake out any of the 'weak' riders that are still remaining, drop any sprinter who lacks descending nerves-of-steel and crush any escape that had been off the front. The final 33 kilometres will be the time for any teammates to work their legs to the bone to hold the group intact for a sprint.
2007 should be the year for the strong sprinters; riders like Filippo Pozzato of Liquigas, Daniele Bennati of Lampre and Tom Boonen. Yes, Tom Boonen. The 2005 World champion won Gent-Wevelgem in 2004; a win here would give him a confidence boost after fading in Ronde van Vlaanderen and setup for a run at Paris-Roubaix number 2.
Bennati is a sprinter but proved he belonged in the hard-man category when, last Sunday, he stayed with the favourites over the Muur, setting up the racing winning move for teammate Alessandro Ballan. Boonen and Bennati could face difficulty from Italian Pozzato.
Pippo, winner of Omloop Het Volk, just over one month ago, has been waiting quietly for his opportunity to strike again. He, Boonen and Bennati will face riders like 2006 winner Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and 2005 (near) winner Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank). Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) and Tomas Vaitkus (Discovery Channel) have both been flying lately and should find this race to their liking.
Unibet has a score to settle with the UCI and it could vie for the win with Aussie Baden Cooke or Frenchman Jimmy Casper. Other contenders include Flecha's teammate Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) and Pippo's teammate Luca Paolini (Liquigas).
Find out how the winds blow and how race develops when, this Wednesday, Cyclingnews will bring you coverage of the 89th Gent-Wevelgem live. Coverage begins around 14:30 local European time (CEST)/ 8:30 (USA East)/ 22:30 Australia (EST) - also on WAP-enabled mobile devices at http://live.cyclingnews.com/wap/