Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders fields, that’s the complete name of the fifth event of the Women’s World Tour in 2019. So far we’ve seen four different winners from fourth different teams in the previous races, which somehow explains the very different character of each competition. Is Gent-Wevelgem a completely new territory again? Yes and no.
Just like Driedaagse De Panne, it’s Flanders. But now the addition of cobbled climbs and even off-road sections might make it look a bit more similar to Ronde van Drenthe, to compare it to a previous WWT race. Anyway, Gent-Wevelgem has its own character, even if it’s a relatively new addition to the women’s calendar. It started in 2012 as a non-UCI race, got the modest 1.2 category in 2014, and entered the World Tour in 2016.
Those few editions have been enough to show the unpredictable nature of the race. From solo wins to moderately big bunch sprints and everything in between, all has happened. A big part of the outcome depends on the weather.
A quick glimpse at the profile shows the middle section of the race as the obvious selective feature. That’s precisely what defines the thin line that separates the sprinters’ from the attacker’s success: there’s a big chance to see a shattered peloton after passing the off-road Plugstreets and the cobbled slopes of the Kemmelberg, but sometimes it all gets back together to a certain extent.
However, the long straigth roads that go from the Kemmelberg to the finish may be even more of a key factor as long as the wind blows. And yes, the weather forecast says there will be wind coming from the northeast, certainly stronger than a slight breeze. That means crosswinds for a substantial part of the race, including the final kilometres from Ieper to Wevelgem, but also most of the flattish mid section between the climbs.
Windy conditions tend to favour all-rounder, classics riders over the pure sprinters, but let’s not ignore the fact that some of the fastest riders are also handy when it comes to riding in the wind. The winner in De Panne, Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor) is one of them, and also a former winner of this race (2013).
Marta Bastianelli (Virtu) won last year and is the current leader of the WWT, so she’ll be easy to identify with her purple jersey. She’s a contender for the victory again. Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal) is looking sharp in the latest races and will be the local favourite. Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) has another opportunity to test herself against the very best at 20 years old. These riders are their team’s designated leaders, but some other squads will start with several options.
Such is the case of Trek-Segafredo, that can go for a sprint with Lotta Lepistö, but also have one of the most powerful riders to create echelons: Ellen van Dijk. The same can be said about CCC-Liv: Marianne Vos can sprint, knows how to ride in the wind, and can count on the support of Ashleigh Moolman and Jeanne Korevaar if the race gets harder.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Gracie Elvin thrives under these race conditions, and will help Sarah Roy with leadout duties in case of a bigger group sprint. Boels-Dolmans will surely miss Jolien D’hoore, still recovering from an injury. Amalie Dideriksen didn’t do a great sprint in De Panne, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see Chantal Blaak and Amy Pieters in full attacking mode. The Dutch national champion is the last rider to date who has won Gent-Wevelgem in a solo effort (2016).
Other fast riders worth mentioning are Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini), Alexis Ryan & Elena Checchini (Canyon//SRAM), Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) and Roxane Fournier (Movistar). Expect attacks from Lucinda Brand (Sunweb), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) even if they may find themselves a bit out of their comfort zone here, especially the latter two.
How to watch the race live
Luckily times are changing, and what just a couple of years ago looked like a distant dream it’s now a reality: there are several options to watch the race. Proximus Sports will livestream Gent-Wevelgem on their Facebook page starting from 11:00 CEST. From 12:00 it will be shown by Eurosport Player and Sporza as well. A delayed, one-hour long programme will start on Eurosport 1 right after the men’s race, around 17:30.
The race is expected to finish between 13:40 and 14:10.