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

Belgian racing continues on Sunday with Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields.

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Now that we’re into the true Spring Classics season, races are scheduled one after another, with Brugge-De Panne on Thursday and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. After Gent-Wevelgem, it’s only a week to wait for the Ronde van Vlaanderen. With Flanders so close and Paris-Roubaix soon after, this is the time of year the heavy hitters really come out to play. Up to now it’s really been about building form for these massive races that can change the course of someones career.

Like so many other Belgian one-day events, Gent-Wevelgem is anyone’s game. Well not anyone, but it has been won from a breakaway and from a reduced bunch sprint. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak even won it solo by nearly two minutes in 2016, so it can go a few different ways.

More often than not, the day has been for the sprinters who can make it over the climbs and through the crosswinds unaffected. Gent-Wevelgem’s past winners include Lotta Henttala in 2017, Marta Bastianelli in 2018, Kirsten Wild in 2019, Jolien D’Hoore in 2020 and the most recent winner, Marianne Vos, in 2021.

Last year, Vos rode the perfect race to win from a reduced bunch sprint, even after Trek-Segafredo tried to split the race in the crosswinds. This year, the weather might not make a difference, with no rain and very little wind predicted. It’s still Belgium though, so never say never.

The Course

The race will start in Ieper and make its way over some of the iconic Belgian climbs before finishing in Wevelgem. This year’s edition is longer than previous editions at 159 km. Last year it was roughly 141 km, the year before 137 km.

All of the climbs hit two-thirds of the way through the race, but the buildup to the back-to-back ascents won’t be easy. The race starts off by heading northwest towards the coast before looping back inland. If the wind does decide to make the day a bit more interesting, both of these sections could be full on crosswinds.

The series of climbs all pop up between 80 km and 125 km, one after another, starting with the Scherpenberg and ending with the well-known Kemmelberg. They are part of a circuit just southwest of the start that loops around so the peloton will tackle the Scherpenberg and Baneberg climbs twice and take on the Kemmelberg from two different sides.

Because the climbs are so close together, they could do a little bit of damage to the race – however, after the climbing is done, there is still over 30 km to go, ample time for everything to come back together. Last year, a few key riders, including Elisa Longo Borghini, Kasia Niewiadoma and Marianne Vos, went clear of the peloton on the climbs but everything was able to come back together on the run-in to Wevelgem.

The climbs in question are all pretty short – none of them over a kilometer – but they have gradients of up to 20%. The Scherpenberg is 400 m and steep at the top with a 11% max gradient, the Baneberg is a bit shorter at 300 meters but ranges from 9% to 20%. The Monteberg is the longest at 1 km and then the first ascent of the Kemmelberg (Belvedere) is 600 meters that tops out at 20%. The final Kemmelberg (Ossuaire) climb is 700 meters and 9.6%, with the steepest section near the end.

Once the climbing is done it’s a flat straight shot to Wevelgem. The only thing that could break the race apart at this point is crosswinds.

The Favorites

Defending champion Marianne Vos and her teammate Coryn Labecki will enter the race as two of the stand-out favourites. Vos missed the Trofeo Alfredo Binda due to illness, so she only has one day of racing (on the road) under her belt this season, but with someone as experienced as the Dutchwoman, race days make very little difference. She knows how to win a bike race, she knows how to win this bike race, and she will be a factor.

Labecki finished sixth in the bunch sprint at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, a little surprising, but she also didn’t have a full team to help her in the finale. If it comes down to a reduced bunch sprint and Vos isn’t feeling it, Labecki is the best backup plan on the start list.

SD Worx hasn’t been on top form in the last three WorldTour races, which is basically just saying they haven’t won them. The team has been the best of the best for years so it’s fine to hold them to a higher standard. After poor performances at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne, they’ll be throwing everything at Gent-Wevelgem. Their star rider Lotte Kopecky might not be able to contend in a sprint against Balsamo and Wiebes but she is always a threat. She will have former winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak backing her up as well.

It’s worth keeping an eye on Lonneke Uneken for a fast finish. The young Dutchwoman was the leader for Exrerioo Classic Brugge-De Panne, and although it didn’t work out in her favor, she has an incredibly fast kick.

Elisa Balsamo is on one right now, after winning both Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne. Trek-Segafredo has wasted no time putting all their eggs in the world champion’s basket and it’s worked out for them on multiple occasions this year. Balsamo has one of the strongest lineups at the race, as well. Between Ellen van Dijk, Elisa Longo Borghini, Chloe Hosking and Audrey Cordon-Ragot, the American team has options and they have the strength to keep the race together for a sprint. Based on how they rode in Italy recently and how Balsamo has been sprinting, it would not be surprising to see them go all in for her again.

Kasia Niewiadoma will finally return to racing after a bout with COVID-19. The Polish rider was one of those who really animated last year’s race on the climbs, and she will probably do so again this year. She’s up against some tough competition who will not want a move to go, but she’s not one to back down from a fight. The backup for Canyon-SRAM will be Soraya Paladin after she finished second in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda last weekend. The Italian is still finding her feet at her new team but the form is there.

After a stellar start to her season in her home races in Australia, Grace Brown hasn’t quite made an impression on European soil, yet. She has been jumping in breakaways and was up there in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the opening weekend. Her and her teammate Marta Cavalli will have to side with Niewiadoma if they want to win; Brown especially could run away with a solo move.

Like Trek-Segafredo, Movistar will be all in for their top rider Emma Norsgaard. The Danish rider has been consistent all season, never finishing outside the top six, with a win at Le Samyn in early March. For Norsgaard, the harder the race the better, so her teammates could try for some attacks and try to shake things up. Norsgaard is really good at putting herself in the right place for a finale, so she doesn’t necessarily need a full squad to help position her.

The talented Australian sprinter Ruby Roseman-Gannon missed Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne but will be on the line for Team BikeExchange-Jayco at Gent-Wevelgem, and while she’s not a top pick to win she is worth mentioning here. She’s had a pretty good showing so far in Europe and she will race in Belgium with her Aussie teammate Alexandra Manly, who proved really valuable to Roseman-Gannon at their early-season home races.

Marta Bastianelli deserves a shout, given that she has three victories this year already and finished third in both the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne. The UAE Team ADQ rider has also been in tons of different moves and selections at all the races and always seems to be in the best place to try for a win.

Last but definitely not least, there’s Lorena Wiebes. The Dutchwoman was looking pretty unbeatable in a bunch sprint until Thursday and it turned out that she had been racing with a broken spoke, which is just wild. Similar to Trek-Segafredo and Movistar, her Team DSM mates will be working for the race to favor their sprinter. Just in case there are some moves that go up the road they have Floortje Mackaij. Balsamo outsprinting Wiebes at the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne was an interesting development and a lot of people probably want to see the two go head-to-head again on Sunday.

CyclingTips star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Vos, Wiebes, Norsgaard, Balsamo
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Kopecky, Bastianelli
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Labecki, Brown, Niewiadoma
⭐️⭐️: Roseman-Gannon, Van den Broek-Blaak
⭐️: Van Dijk, Longo Borghini

How to watch

Tune in to GCN+ at 4:15 CET to catch the women race in Flanders Fields. Coverage is available in all GCN+ territories except Australia and New Zealand. For fans located down under, you can watch on FloBikes with the lovely Gracie Elvin for company. FloBikes is also available in the U.S. and Canada.

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