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Gent-Wevelgem; all eyes on Belgium

March 26, 2016

Tomorrow, the first of the true Belgian Classics will be raced; Gent-Wevelgem. Last weekend, was an Italian affair, with the Classicisima, Milan-San Remo. This Sunday, Easter Sunday no less, and less than a week after the horrendous terror attack in Brussels, all eyes will return to Belgium.

On Wednesday, just days after the Brussels attacks, Belgian rider Jens Debusschere took the mid-week win at Dwars doors Vlaanderen, easing the Belgian psyche mildly. It was an emotional day for all of Belgium, and sets the stage for an excellent Gent-Wevelgem.

Wevelgem has long been called a “Sprinter’s Classic” because of it’s flat finishing kilometers. But it also suits itself to the lucky, the brave, and the strong. Last year’s winner, Luca Paolini, is out of the race due to a little problem stemming from his cocaine positive during last year’s Tour de France. And with the early season so far being full of surprises, the field is a bit more wide open than it has been in years.

There are the obvious favorites of Sagan, Kristoff, and Van Avermaet, as well as the emotional favorites of Boonen, and Cancellara. But if the the early season has proven anything so far, such as the Démare at Milan-San Remo, anything is possible on Easter Sunday … as if a chocolate pooping bunny isn’t miracle enough!


  • Sagan. Yep. The World Champion has been on a lot of podiums already this year, but hasn’t gotten to the top yet. Losing to Michal Kwiatkowski at E3 Harelbeke on Friday might be enough motivation … as if he doesn’t have enough. Expect the team to ride for Sagz, of course, and attempt to control things for their golden calf.


  • EQS brings a team that could win the race with pretty much each rider … if they didn’t ride for EQS. Similar to last year’s rough start in the Classics, so far this year EQS has been frustratingly close to The Big One. Boonen … duh … is the emotional choice in what could be his final season. But he’s clearly not quite at his best after a shitty end of season last year. Or he’s masterfully bluffing. If anybody can do it, it’s Tommeke. But he’s also got Stybar, Terpstra, Trentin, and Vandenbergh who can win the race … and that new Colombian kid Gaviria. If it does come to a sprint, and Gaviria is in it, after his early miscues, expect to see him win.


  • Debusschere won on Wednesday and carved the team’s name in gold for the rest of the season. All of Belgium now knows his name. But the team’s best hope is likely the German muscleman Greipel. Or, if the Easter god’s are smiling the young Tiejs Benoot, grabs the win and announces his arrival.


  • Van Avermaet has already gotten some great wins this year, two of them by outsprinting Sagan. He’ll have great support, and he’ll also have an American kid named Phinney waiting to find his own chances. If Taylor is near his best, the course could favor his TT skills in the closing kilometers.


  • Without their coke dealer, they’re gonna hafta get behind last year’s Classic King Co-Champ, Kristoff. He’ll have the support of the usual grim Eastern Bloc riders with names nobody can pronounce. If they get him anywhere near the front at the finish, he’ll be really hard to beat.

Trek-Seafood … Segafredo:

  • Fabulous Cancellara is retiring this year, and he’s already won Strade Bianche for a third time this season. He’s really aiming for Roubaix and Flanders, but he wouldn’t mind winning in Wevelgem. With Nizzolo as back up in a pure sprint, Trek has a solid chance to do well.


  • Good lord, will this team ever win a big race? So much talent. So few wins. Sep Vanmarcke is either destined to finally make good on his potential, or walk away from the sport as the other Leif Hoste

Dimension Data;

  • It’s all about Boasson Hagen. Farrar, 3rd in 2011, would be a shocktastical winner, but will instead be Eddy’s leadout man, most likely, if it comes to a sprint.


  • A lot of skinny French guys, mostly, but with a promising Nico Denz and Gediminas Bagdonas. A bit out of their element, they’ve shown a desire to get better at the Classics. With Canadian Hugo Houle, largely a TT specialist, they have some firepower … but probably not enough of it.


  • This ain’t a Grand Tour, which is Astana’s specialty. But with certified hard man Lars Boom, and Lieuwe Westra as back up, they don’t not have a chance. Sorta. #larsgoBOOM


  • Most of the talk at Cannondale for this race is for young pro Patty Bevin. He’s the goods, with lots of potential. The race suits him, but it’s his first time there, so he’ll largely be in a support role as he learns the race. Breschel, Langeveld, and Wippert are the main threats.


  • It’d be easy to count them out of the race, but with Arnaud Démare winning Milan-San Remo, they have to be watched. More eyes will be on the team car and the sticky bottles … but they’ve proven they can win a monument.


  • Heinrich Haussler was a surprising top ten in MSR, showing signs of his former promising self. Another emotional choice, rather than logical one, it’d be swell to see him on the podium at least.


  • Sascha Mofolo is plenty fast in a sprint, but he’s not overwhelmingly robust. Hard to see him winning, or being in the select finishing bunch really. But hey, at least the team will have a showcase for their really ugly helmets again.


  • Biggest mystery of the race will be the incredibly unreliable Carlos Betancur. He used to be one of the greatest young Colombian prospects for the Grand Tours, but in recent years he’s hard a hard time avoiding the dessert tray. That said, if it comes to a sprint and Juan Jose Lobato is there, this is a race he can win.


  • Last year’s other half of the Classic King Co-Champs, Degenkolb, is still out recovering from surgery after a horrendous crash in Spain. The same crash took out a big portion of the Giant Classics squad. They’ve been anonymous all season so far, due to that crash. They’ll be happy to be in a break and get TV time.


  • Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! OY! OY! OY! Luke Durbrridge is the fella for this one. Matthews is out, and no Gerrans. My personal favorite, Svein Tuft is in the race, and he’s a carved in granite Tough Guy. He’s not at his best yet, but he’ll be there working his ass off and making legs burn if he’s on the front chasing down a break.


  • After Kwiatkowski’s win on Friday, SKY has less pressure for the weekend, but Ian Standard is still gonna bust his ass to get the win. The big Brit is a good rouleur, so he’ll be in with a shot if he’s in the mix. If Viviani is there in the final, he’s also got the goods to make the podium.


  • A small team of all Belgies, you can bet your frites and mayo that they’ll be there. One way or another, they will factor in the race. They could win it even. With who? Who the hell knows?! They’re the best of the lower division teams in Belgium, so they’re going to be in the mix.

Wanty- Groupe Gobert;

  • Danilo Napolitano is like the grandfather on the team. The Italian “veteran” has done a few laps. He’s not bad on the cobbles, but he’s old enough to remember steel frames and own tube shifters, unlike the other riders on the team. Kenny De Haes is a classy rider though, and will likely be in the early break.


  • HA! This all-Italian team, sorta like Topsport’s all Begian one, is a top-tier lower division team … but on Italian soil. Sonny Colbrelli is a tough little swig of chianti, so he might get into the mix but without mountains or warm weather, they don’t stand a chance.


  • Lots of names I can’t pronounce. Polish and Czech riders, and one Italian. They are fighters, and I love their Guerciotti bikes. Do they have a chance? Not likely, so expect them in breaks all day.


  • It would be easy to rule them out, but the crash-prone Bouhanni is looking good. He had a mechanical in the sprint at MSR and could’ve won, so he’s obviously got the fitness. We’ll see if he has the brains too. (I’m guessing not.)

Direct Energie;

  • Chavanel is a crazy som-bitch. He’s older and slower, but he’s no less crazy. He’s back on a French team, so he’s been carbo loading on baguettes in prep. He’ll likely be in a dangerous early break to set up young gun Coquard who lost to Debusschere on Wednesday … because he sat up to celebrate his “win” too soon. Ouch.


  • Aside from having Raymond Kreder on the team, who is a crafty rider, the only thing to really say about the team is that they are riding disc brakes. Yep … young, Dutch, and disco. But hey, they have cool orange and black kits, with really cool orange shoes.

So who is gonna win the race? Hell if I know. But it’s as likely to be a total unknown as it is one of the favorites from the big teams. Weather is going to be a factor. Overnight rains could lead to daytime rains too. If so … carnage on the cobbles will make it more selective.

 Cor Vos/ PEZ

Expect the early pointless break to make bigger teams nervous, then a chaotic chase that splits the field to pieces. A smaller break will go away with a mix of favorites and “who-the-fuck-is-that-guy”. Who wins from that reduced group is a mystery.

Jus’sayin …


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