Wout van Aert wins Gent-Wevelgem.

Preview: The route and the favorites for the 2022 men’s Gent-Wevelgem

Will someone launch a winning move from afar, or will things hold together for a sprint?

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On the heels of Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic, one-day racing in Belgium will continue on Sunday with the 84th edition of Gent-Wevelgem.

Plenty of the peloton’s pavé experts and as well as quite a few sprinters – optimistic about their chances in a Classic that has often favored them – will be in attendance to battle for the win in Flanders. As ever, Gent-Wevelgem will be a major prize for whomever manages to come out on top after nearly 250 km of racing, while also being a major opportunity to tune up ahead of the Tour of Flanders.

Keep an eye for Abby Mickey’s preview of the women’s race, which is coming soon. As for the men’s race, here’s what you need to know …

The route

Gent-Wevelgem, despite its name, will again start in Ieper this year. The town is not particularly close to Ghent, but as a major historical site of the First World War, Ieper is a fitting place to start a race that memorializes those lost in the conflict. Riders will roll out from the historic Menin Gate and then begin a journey of 249 km on roads that wind through West Flanders, occasionally looping back over themselves.

It is only after 150 km of racing that the peloton will begin to take on the more challenging features of the route, starting with the Scherpenberg, the first of the nine hellingen on the profile. Next up are the Baneberg, the Monteberg, and the Kemmelberg, before riders must tackle three gravel “Plugstreets.” Then, it’s back onto the remaining hellingen.

Riders will again head up and over the Monteberg, Kemmelberg, and Scherpenberg before gearing up for the last two major climbs, a final trip up the Baneberg and an ascent of the Kemmelberg from an alternate direction. All told, the hellingen and Plugstreets will offer plenty of opportunities for attacks and will almost certainly thin out the pack, but from the final climb, there are still some 35 km of racing left.

Most of the rest of the way is flat with a finale that will entice the sprinters; as such, it won’t be easy to sustain a long-range attack. For now, the forecast calls for sunny skies and only a moderate amount of wind, which could further bolster the chances of the sprinters in a race that has occasionally seen inclement weather wreak havoc on the bunch.

The favorites

As of Thursday, the start list for Gent-Wevelgem is far from set in stone, but some big names stand out as potential favorites for the Flemish one-day. The defending champion is an obvious place to start a conversation about contenders.

Wout van Aert wins the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Wout van Aert has one of the fastest finishing kicks of any Classics star in the peloton, and that makes him a major contender for a race that could come down to a sprint. Unlike many of his rivals for next weekend’s Tour of Flanders, Van Aert won’t feel as much pressure to launch an attack from afar at Gent-Wevelgem. That said, he certainly could try his luck off the front, and he can at least follow any particularly dangerous moves on the last few hellingen to put himself in with a chance of winning regardless of how the race plays out.

Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte make for strong support options at Jumbo-Visma.

Fabio Jakobsen wins stage 2 of Paris-Nice.

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl looks as well-positioned as usual to challenge Van Aert for this race. Fabio Jakobsen will be a strong contender in a sprint with Florian Sénéchal as a fine backup, while Kasper Asgreen and Yves Lampaert give the team cards to play in longer-range attacks. As ever, the team has the collective firepower to adapt as the race takes shape.

Trek-Segafredo is another squad that will have options in Mads Pedersen, who won the race in 2020, and Jasper Stuyven. Both have fast finishes, but both are also capable of getting clear in a decisive move. TotalEnergies also has options, with three-time winner Peter Sagan a contender for whatever scenario and Anthony Turgis a strong card to play in a late attack.

Tim Merlier wins the sprint at the end of the Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne.

Tim Merlier, who just won the Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne, could be a major player in a sprint finish, with Jasper Philipsen and Gianni Vermeersch providing additional firepower for Alpecin-Fenix. Dylan Groenwegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) will look to go one better than he did in De Panne after finishing second to Merlier by the narrowest of margins. Bora-Hansgrohe will look to Sam Bennett in the event of a sprint with Nils Politt as a strong option to send off the front.

Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux), and John Degenkolb (DSM) are others who could contend in a bunch kick. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), 2017 winner Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën), Dylan van Baarle and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), and Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal) are just a few of the many potential contenders for a more selective finish.

With the start list set to continue evolving over the next few days, be sure to check back for updates, particularly after many of the aforementioned names give us a glimpse of their form at Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic.

CyclingTips star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Van Aert
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Jakobsen, Pedersen, Merlier, Groenewegen
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Sagan, Bennett, Van Avermaet, Laporte, Démare, Ackermann, Asgreen
⭐️⭐️: Stuyven, Benoot, Lampaert, Kristoff, Trentin, Philipsen, Sénéchal
⭐️: Campenaerts, Van Baarle, Naesen, Turgis, Degenkolb, Küng, Politt

When to watch

The men’s race at Gent-Wevelgem will get underway at 10:50 am local time (4:50 am ET/9:50 am BST/7:50 pm AEDT). The riders will hit the Plugstreets at around 3:15 pm local time (9:15 am ET/2:15 pm BST/12:15 am AEDT) with five hellingen to follow that. If there’s a decisive move, it will probably go somewhere around there, but don’t be surprised if things come back together for a sprint in Wevelgem a little bit before 5:00 pm local time (11:00 am ET/4:00 pm BST/2:00 am AEDT).

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