Gent – Wevelgem has changed over the years, from its inception in 1934 up until 1989 – when Gerrit Solleveld of the Netherlands out jumped Britain’s Sean Yates after a day long, two-up break in the pouring rain – the race was run up to full classic distance on many occasions; 265 kilometres that year.
The greats have won in Wevelgem – Van Looy, Anquetil, Van Springel, Godefroot, Merckx, Maertens, Hinault, Moser, Raas and Kelly among them.
Oscar Freire stomped to a great win in 2008.
Since those days the event has become a ‘sprinter’s classic’ – despite the double ascents of the Monteberg (145 & 168 K) and Kemmelberg (152 & 175 K) – the race generally ends in a bunch sprint. Bergs apart, it’s a flat, fast race of around 200 kilometres, where the echelon rules if the wind is whipping in from the south west – which it usually is.
The horrors of modern traffic are one thing – the descent of the Kemmelberg is another thing entirely.
Starting in Deinze – the horrors of modern traffic make a mid-week start in the Flanders capital city of Ghent impossible – the route hurtles west, straight for the freezing, grey waters of the North Sea. The neat seaside town of Koksijde (of cyclo-cross fame) gets a flying visit before the parcours turns south for two laps of the potentially dangerous Monteberg and Kemmelberg circuit – Jimmy Casper crashed badly coming off the Kemmel in 2007.
I still have nightmares about Casper’s crash.
Then it’s an eastward dash for Wevelgem and the long, straight, fast run in where the likes of Abdoujaparov, Cipollini, Steels, Hushovd and Freire have been allowed to demonstrate their top ends.
Sometimes it can be a procession, but it as also served up some of the most spectacular classic finishes of recent years; Nico Mattan’s controversial – some say following car assisted – catching and beating of Flecha in the last metres in 2005 is still a bar room standard in Flanders.
Flecha came agonizingly close to a huge win in 2005.
Hushovd’s 2006 win was preceded by an audacious solo attack from Bert Roesems which cracked Petacchi’s train; then a late throw of the dice by Pozzato.
Hushovd prevailed in 2006, but it was a hard fought affair – attacks all over the place and a very tight sprint.
And in 2007 Burghardt and Hammond worked over Freire so effectively that the rapid Spaniard had to settle for third – Oscar came back to win last year, though.
Burghardt and Hammond were perfect in 2007.
The 2009 edition is different from the last few editions in that there’s one red hot favourite on the start sheet – Primavera winner, Mark Cavendish (Columbia and GB).
The main question is therefore; ‘who can beat him?’
Given that the opposition know that if they take him to the finish, it’s odds on that he’ll win, it should be an attacking race.
Who can beat him?
Rabobank are leading exponents of cross wind riding; expect to see orange and blue echelons if it’s windy – Flecha’s second place to Mattan in 2005 will still hurt the tall Spaniard. And their acrobatic Aussie sprinter, Graeme Brown might be good for the podium if it’s a ‘rough house’ finish.
Rabobank has never found a crosswind they’re not happy to gutter the field in.
QuickStep can never be underestimated in any race that involves Flanders and cobbles; whilst the prime focus will be on Sunday, Roubaix and Boonen (winner here in 2004), if the chance presents itself, they’ll pounce. Locals Devolder, Van Impe or Weylandt could all win from a small group – Weylandt was third last year.
Classy Italian fastman Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) was third here as long ago as 2005; he’s even faster now – but fast enough to beat the ‘Cannonball?’ – as the Gazzetta has christened Cavendish.
If Boonen and Pippo stop staring at each other, there could be some fireworks.
If it’s a long, long drag race to the line, with the chain in the 11 for the last couple of K; Tyler Farrar (Garmin & USA) has beaten the Manxman already this year – but can he get over those bergs, in one piece?
Pozzato (Katyusha & Italy) has the form, the legs and the class – but it’s unlikely he can slip the tight marking that he’ll be subjected to. Because of the ‘short’ 200 kilometre race distance, teams can rely more on their domestiques to be there to the death, something that only the very strongest can do after a six hour-plus race, the teams with real aspirations will all have man on ‘Pippo.’
Yep, he’s pretty much due, dontcha think? Or he could continue his spectacular run of seconds…
Talking of real aspirations, the big win has to be close for Cervelo; Haussler (Germany) has nabbed second in the year’s first two monuments and Hushovd (Norway) might have made it on to the podium at De Ronde as well as the Primavera had he not been felled in a late crash. If any combination can beat Cav, it’s these two; aided and abetted by the likes of Jez Hunt, Roger Hammond (second in 2007) and Andreas Klier (winner in 2003).
Remember that…way back in 2003? Klier won over Vogels and one Mr. Boonen.
Organise that distant relative’s funeral for Wednesday afternoon, get the Trappiste in the fridge now and print off the start sheet – you know it makes sense!