We are in Flanders for the round four of the Women’s WorldTour, the Gent-Wevelgem, and about to enter April, which may very well be the most important month of the classics calendar, including the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Ardennes races. But of course Gent-Wevelgem is a great race in itself and everybody wants to win here — hence the superb lineup. And there’s been some changes this year which make it feel more like a real classic.
Gent-Wevelgem is a much longer race in 2017, which is of course a positive change. It takes advantage of the new UCI rule that allows WWT races to be up to 160 km, and goes from 115 in 2016 to 146 this year. That will add considerable attrition even if the main features of the course remain the same.
It’s a tricky one — the middle section of the race is really hard, including two passes through the Kemmelberg + Monteberg hills, and the Baneberg as well. But the last 40 km or so are basically flat, so there’s a chance for the sprinters teams to organise a chase if the gaps are still small after the cobbled climbs. Crosswinds can be a factor too on those narrow roads, so a bunch sprint is highly unlikely anyway.
The nature of the race makes it a hard one to predict. Is Gent-Wevelgem one for the all-rounders, for the classics specialists, for the sprinters or for the escape artists? Probably a mix of all that.
Let’s start with the sprinters, then. Jolien D’hoore (Wiggle-High5) is the Flanders star and can perform both as a fast finisher or a smart classics rider, which makes her hard to beat. Her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini is the current WWT leader. The Italian, a super strong all-rounder but far from a sprinter, may go for the attacks instead, adding a valuable additional option for the team.
Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) just won Dwars door Vlaanderen. On paper, Gent-Wevelgem is a race that plays equally well to her stregths. Alé-Cipollini would love a sprint finish with either Chloe Hosking or Marta Bastianelli. Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) can both sprint and attack, and same goes for the Lotto-Soudal leader Lotte Kopecky and Team Sunweb’s Coryn Rivera.
The all-rounders and classics riders will try to make the race as hard as possible in order to drop the sprinters. Elena Cecchini (Canyon//SRAM) has a good opportunity to reach the WWT leader jersey. Her teammate Lisa Brennauer can certainly get a result, too. Orica-Scott are racing superbly in the latest weeks and it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll make an aggressive showing. Both Gracie Elvin and Annemiek van Vleuten are well suited for the race.
Boels-Dolmans look almost as strong as ever on paper, but they’ve been recently plagued by injuries and illnesses, so their form is unknown, especially that of Anna van der Breggen. Chantal Blaak and Amy Pieters are looking fine though, and Blaak knows how to win here.
Expect fireworks from Lucinda Brand and Ellen van Dijk if their faster Team Sunweb’s teammate Coryn Rivera is not up there with the best. Opportunists such as Sheyla Gutiérrez (Cylance Pro Cycling), Thalita de Jong (Lares-Woawdeals) or even Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3) may take advantage of a chaotic and aggresive race.
How to follow Gent-Wevelgem
Unfortunately there won’t be a live broadcast, so the best way to keep up to date is the Twitter hashtag #GWEwomen. The race is due to finish around 14:40 CEST, and some video highlights are expected after the men’s race.