Preview: Who will win Gent-Wevelgem?
Two fantastic Women’s WorldTour races in one week?! Hip hip hooray! Three days after the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne the women’s peloton lines up once more, this time with some cobbles on the menu at Gent-Wevelgem.
It’s strange to think that only six months ago, the women were racing into Wevelgem to wrap up their 2020 season. The three women’s WorldTour races so far have finished in spectacular style, and based on the way the women’s peloton is riding, Gent-Wevelgem will be no exception to that pattern.
2021 will be the eighth edition of the Gent-Wevelgem women’s race. In previous years, the race has either gone to the breakaway or come down to a reduced bunch sprint. Last year, Jolien d’Hoore won against Lotte Kopecky and Lisa Brennauer in a sprint out of a small group; the very first edition was won by American Lauren Hall from a breakaway. The point is, it will be hard to predict how the race will play out. A sprint seemed all be guaranteed at the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, and what unfolded was far from that.
Just like last year, no spectators are allowed on the roadside in Belgium, which means that the course is not available to the public. Flanders Classics did, however, launch a campaign where you can win a “Flandrien at home” care package equipped with water bottles, wireless headphones, an Ass Saver mudguard for your bike, a bike light, champagne, Kwaremont beer and accompanying glasses to drink it from, cycling jersey and cap, plus a Het Nieuwsblad newspaper and cycling magazine. Unfortunately, this watch-from-home experience is only available to Belgian residents, sorry for the bubble burst.
Even without knowing the exact course, there are still a few things we can expect from Gent-Wevelgem. Two of the features that make a Belgian race a Belgian race, cobbles and short climbs, will be part of the route from Ypres to Wevelgem.
The 2019 course saw most of the major climbing in the middle of the race, with a flat run-in to the finish. It’s probably safe to assume at least a few of Belgium’s iconic climbs, especially the Kemmelberg, will pop up during the race.
Information about the course will be updated as it becomes available.
Weather forecasting calls for an 8% chance of rain, cloudy skies, and some wind from the southwest. It is also supposed to be relatively warm in Wevelgem for the women’s finish, 57°F/14°C. Of course, things could change, but it doesn’t appear that weather will be a deciding factor in Sunday’s race.
With the starting lineup is almost on par with that of the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, the list of contenders for Gent-Wevelgem features many of the same names. A few teams have subbed in more rouleur-type riders to make it over the Belgian climbs and cobbles. For example; Canyon-SRAM has replaced Alexis Ryan and Hannah Ludwig with Kasia Niewiadoma and Alena Amialiusik. Similarly, Trek-Segafredo is subbing in Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan for Chloe Hosking and Lauretta Hansen.
Jolien d’Hoore (SD Worx) and Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) are solid favorites for Gent-Wevelgem. Both have shown fantastic form so far this season and both thrive in Belgian conditions. They are both champions of Belgium, after all, Kopecky the current and d’Hoore in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017.
It is important to note that D’Hoore has been on the podium of Gent-Wevelgem three times, once at the top of the podium and twice in second. A few days ago, she sprinted to third at Brugge-De Panne and if she wins Gent-Wevelgem it will be the first time someone has won the race twice.
Another favorite who made the list for Brugge-De Panne was Emma Norsgaard. The Danish national champion has been on a tear lately and has been especially strong in the Belgian races this season. She has another shot to win in Wevelgem, especially if the climbs take out some of the pure sprinters as they did at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Brugge-De Panne saw a group of the top sprinters in the sport right now outfoxed by Grace Brown of Team BikeExchange. While they still got to sprint for second and third, there are limited chances for sprinters to cross the line first, especially given the reduced WorldTour calendar. Gent-Wevelgem is one of the few “sprinters classics” on the calendar, so Alice Barnes, Elisa Balsamo, and Kirsten Wild will be looking for some redemption on Sunday.
With more climbing at Gent-Wevelgem than at Brugge-De Panne, there a few new names that might pop-up in the results. However, the race has come down to at least a reduced bunch sprint three out of seven editions. In 2019 Kirsten Wild won from a full peloton. The other three editions were won solo or from a breakaway. The biggest winning margin was when Chantal van den Broek-Blaak won alone by 1:24 in 2016.
Grace Brown, Team BikeExchange
Speechless is the only reaction to be had watching Grace Brown outsmart and outride a handful of the strongest sprinters in women’s racing at Brugge-De Panne. Brown’s 10 km long solo breakaway was one for the books. Up against so many sprinters, all she could do was try for the win alone, and she pulled it off in spectacular form.
So far in 2021 Brown has yet to finish outside the top 10 of any race she’s started. Second at both the road race and time trial at Australian nationals, eighth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and second at Danilith Nokere Koerse, Brown is picking up right where she left off in 2020.
In October of last year, Brown pulled a similar solo move at Brabantse Pijl, riding to victory ahead of Liane Lippert and Floortije Mackaij (Team Sunweb). Another of her notable achievements at the tail end of last season was aa second-place finish behind Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, another solo move.
With so many lone breakaway successes, Brown might find herself marked on Sunday, and in the rest of the Classics. Even so, when she rode away on Thursday no one from the surrounding group could respond to her attack. She held off a pack of chasing sprinters each with a teammate to help to take the victory. With that kind of form, Brown will no doubt be in the mix of many of the upcoming races.
Marianne Vos, Jumbo-Visma
Unlike the other top teams racing Gent-Wevelgem, Jumbo-Visma did not race Brugge-De Panne. Since they are not a WorldTour team, they are not required to start all of the WorldTour races. Their decision to sit out the mid-week race is a fascinating one and could have something to do with the stacked couple of weeks ahead for the women’s peloton.
While the strongest rider at Trofeo Alfredo Binda was unquestionably Elisa Longo Borghini, the second strongest was Marianne Vos. Vos almost effortlessly rode to second in Italy, after also riding to third at GP Oetingen in Belgium a week before.
Vos has only raced three road races so far in 2021 but has looked fantastic at all three. Knowing Vos, a victory is just around the corner. Her new Jumbo-Visma team has not won a race yet and will be keen to show what they’re made of.
Lisa Klein, Canyon-SRAM
Lisa Klein, current German time trial national champion and all-around power specialist, has been showing a lot of promise in the brutal early season races this year. Klein was relentless in the third stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour when she tried to bridge to the breakaway mid-way through the race. Although her attempts failed, Klein still finished fifth on the day, quite impressive given the long solo effort.
Just recently Klein finished third at Danilith Nokere Koerse behind some very solid company, Amy Pieters and Grace Brown. She has had a few good results in Belgium, first in two stages of the BeNe Ladies Tour in 2019 as well as the general classification. If she were to take Gent-Wevelgem it would not be her first WorldTour win, she beat Pieters and Lizzie Deignan to the line in the third stage of the Boels Ladies Tour in 2019, but it would be the biggest result of her career so far.
Klein has both Barnes sisters, Alena Amialiusik, and Kasia Niewiadoma racing with her on Sunday, as well as Elise Chabbey who had a nasty crash in Brugge-De Panne on Thursday. The Barnes sisters have been riding well this year, as has Niewiadoma. Canyon-SRAM as a team is due for a big result, with the way each individual rider is going at the moment, so watch for their galactic jerseys in the finale on Sunday.
Marta Cavalli, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
Fifth at Gent-Wevelgem in 2020 and 10th in 2019, Marta Cavalli is continuing to show steady growth not only this season but from years previously. Cavalli finished ninth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and eighth at Strade Bianche. Her performance at Strade Bianche was particularly impressive. Cavalli went on the attack in the final kilometres of the race, the only one to try and bridge to the two riders off the front.
A big WorldTour result is coming for Cavalli, it’s just a matter of time. The form is there, she will not struggle to make it over the climbs, as she proved at the Omloop, and she has a great kick to finish the race off.
Cavalli will also have Emilia Fahlin beside her. Fahlin was recently ninth at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and usually does quite well in races like Gent-Wevelgem. She’s been riding consistently better and better so far in 2021, riding to 11th at Danilith Nokere Koerse after finishing 23rd at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The Cavalli Fahlin-duo is an exciting concept. The two riders are quite similar and can work together to get FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope some well-earned results in the Belgian one-days coming up.
SD Worx remains a force to be reckoned with, especially after their crushing defeat at Strade Bianche. D’Hoore will line up with Christine Majerus, one of the most underrated riders in the peloton, Amy Pieters, Lonneke Uneken, Roxane Fournier, and Elena Cecchini.
Every member of the team has the potential to win in their own way, although it’s hard to look beyond them riding for anyone but D’Hoore. Still, SD Worx has been the strongest team of 2021 so far, and two losses does not change that.
The race will be live on Sporza in Belgium, NOS in the Netherlands, L’Equipe in France, and FloSports in the US and Canada, as well as GCN+ in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Australians can watch on SBS.
Coverage on GCN+ starts at 13.00 CET.