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Exactly one year ago, bombs went off at the Belgian airport Brussels-Zaventem and at the underground station Maalbeek, making it uncertain if the cycling races of the week could go ahead.
But they did and Gent-Wevelgem turned out to be a day of ‘cycling therapy’, with Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) winning the race – the fifth Boels-Dolmans win in a row – after an impressive solo ride.
One year on, memorial services have been held throughout Belgium, and although the security level is still higher than before the attacks, the cycling races are continuing with the useful cheer and excitement that the Belgian cobble classics bring.
We’re looking ahead towards Sunday’s women’s Gent-Wevelgem. Here are five things you need to know about the race.
1. It’s round four in the Women’s WorldTour
With a win for Wiggle-High5, Boels-Dolmans and Team Sunweb each in the first three rounds of the Women’s WorldTour, it’s up to WM3 Pro Cycling, Orica-Scott, Cervélo-Bigla or Canyon-SRAM to follow suit.
1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) – 220
2. Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) – 185
3. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) – 170
Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) – 12
2. Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) – 6
3. Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-PBM) – 4
1. Boels-Dolmans – 351
2. Team Sunweb – 299
3. Wiggle-High5 – 290
2. The race in numbers: 146, 3 and 5
The women’s Gent-Wevelgem race is 146 kilometer in length and starts from Ieper to go to Wevelgem over 3 different climbs: the Kemmelberg, Monteberg and Baneberg. The peloton will cover the Kemmelberg and Monteberg twice, which means the race sees a total of 5 climbs.
3. The women’s race is just one of seven Gent-Wevelgem races that day
A whopping seven (!) races are held on Sunday 26 March as part of Gent-Wevelgem race day. In addition to the men’s and women’s (Women’s) WorldTour races, there are races for U17 and U19 boys and girls, plus a U23 men’s race.
It undoubtedly takes much preparation and lots of coordination on the day itself, but it shows it’s not impossible to include several races on one day.
Of course, not all races start in Gent and finish in Wevelgem, because that woúld be impossible.
The youngster men’s races all start and finish in Ieper. The U17 men‘s race is held on an 11.8 kilometer circuit, which is raced six times, with the U19 and U23 men each doing a large lap, with a double loop over several climbs, 129 kilometers and 185 kilometers in length respectively.
With the women’s start also in Ieper, you’d think surely one of the races on this day actually starts in Gent and finishes in Wevelgem. But no, not even the elite men’s race is a ‘true’ Gent-Wevelgem. The male peloton takes off in Deinze (which, admittedly, is just outside Gent), to cover 249 kilometers to Wevelgem.
4. Turn to Twitter to follow the race
The race is held on Sunday , March 26 and starts at 10.55 a.m. CET (5.55 a.m. EDT, 8.55 p.m. AEDT) and is expected to finish between 2.30 and 2.40 p.m. CET (9.30 a.m. EDT, 12.30 a.m. AEDT on March 27).
On Twitter: Use Twitter hashtags #UCIWWT and #GentWevelgem. We’re hoping the hashtag #GWEwomen will catch on for women’s specific updates. Follow the official race account @GentWevelgem or the account of organisers @FlandersCLnews.
We’re expecting highlights videos from the UCI and maybe from Sporza too. We’ll share on our social media channels if we come across them.
5. Favourites include Elena Cecchini, Annemiek van Vleuten and Lotte Kopecky
With only three editions of the women’s Gent-Wevelgem (as a UCI race) in the books, there are only two returning winners taking to the start this Sunday. Team Sunweb’s Floortje Mackaij and defending winner Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) both return to Gent-Wevelgem to try to repeat their wins, while Lauren Hall, racing for the American national team when she won the race in 2013, will not start as neither her team United Healthcare nor the American team travels to Belgium for this race.
In addition to Mackaij and Blaak, other favourites for this race include Belgian sprinter Jolien D’Hoore (Wiggle-High5) and her former teammate Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini), who have both been able to win smaller races this year but not in the Women’s WorldTour yet, Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling), who is surely looking for a first road win for her new sponsor WM3 Energy, and the Belgian teams are looking toward Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal), Thalita de Jong (Lares-Waowdeals) and Belgian champion Kaat Hannes (Lensworld-Kuota) to deliver them a win.
Finally, you’ll have to keep an eye on Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott), with two top fives and one sixth-place finish to her name in the first Women’s WorldTour races of this year, Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM), currently second in the Women’s WorldTour GC after tenth, second and fifth, and of course young rider jersey wearer Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) will be one to watch.
Who are you be cheering for to win this Sunday?