Gent – Wevelgem – preview
by Fabio Valente (twitter: @cyclingideas_)
Dating its first edition back to 1934, Gent-Wevelgem is one of the most important belgian classic of the year. Usually raced on the last Sunday of March, the competition starts from the little town of Deinze and covers a distance of 250 or more kms to the finish line in Wevelgem. Even if including some steep climbs like the Kemmelberg (highest gradient at 23%), this classic is one for the fastest men of the peloton and often ends in a bunch sprint. Looking at the palmares of the race, it’s significant to notice that 49 out of 79 editions of the race have been won by belgian competitors, while the first foreign win came only in 1954. Tom Boonen, Rik Van Looy, Mario Cipollini, Eddie Merckx and Robert van Eenaeme hold the record for most wins here with three, while Marcus Burghardt, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, Bernhard Eisel and Greg Van Avermaet are the active riders with at least one win in Wevelgem.
One of the longest race days of the year, this 80th edition of Gent-Wevelgem is a 250 km long one, from Deinze to Wevelgem. After about 125 kms of almost flat terrain, the riders will face in the space of 90 kms all the climbs of the day, including Catsberg, Kokereelberg, Baneberg, Monteberg and two passages on the Kemmelberg, which is often crucial for the outcome of the race. Kemmelberg is a violent, steep climb on the cobblestones which rises up to a frightening highest gradient of 23%. Even if there are still 35 kms of flat course after the last passage on Kemmelberg, the move to avoid a bunch sprint has to be done there: a powerful attack by men like Sagan, GVA and similar ones could prove to be lethal for the hopes of the sprinters sitting in the peloton. Four of the last five editions ended with no bunch sprint, thanks to brave moves from a solo rider or from a little group of contenders on the last climbs of the race. The question is the same every year: attackers or sprinters?
Looking at the actual weather forecast for Gent, Wevelgem and other towns the race will pass through, we should not have the worst day at all for a cycling race in the belgian area. Temperatures will dance all day between 3 and 10 °C while chances of rain drops will be very low during the race. Wind will not be an obstacle even if the riders will meet it coming from every direction: its strenghth will not be a sensible one and it should not affect the strategy of the race.
Team strenghth and contenders (prices from bet365)
A classic for the sprinters, odds say, as we have all the fastest rider in a sprint low priced for tomorrow, with the usual dangers like Sagan and GVA ready to spoil them the party. Team BMC, as it was in E3 Harelbeke, starts the race with the number one in their squad as Greg Van Avermaet (12/1) took the win in Wevelgem in 2017, outsprinting Jens Keukeleire on the finish line. The belgian’s chances to repeat the result are there and his formi is slowly coming close to his 2017 one, when he was capable of sudden attacks on the climbs to escape from the bunch. His 3rd place in Harelbeke is a good sign and he will be determined to find his second win in a row in Wevelgem. After the strong team performance in Harelbeke, the red-black team will count on the attacking support of men like Stefen Kung (80/1) and Jurgen Roelandts (50/1), having no pure sprinters for a fast finale in their line up.
The Bora-Hansgrohe Team lines up a very strong team at the start of this Sunday classic: Peter Sagan (4/1) is their undisputed leader and after his disappointing day around Harelbeke I’m sure he will be on the move on the Kemmelberg, or even before to shake things a bit. He will receive assistance from trusted men like Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt and Daniel Oss. The german and the italian could be an optimal second choice for the team to tire the opponents and to give Sagan a bit of rest during the race. Priced respectively at 150/1 and 125/1 they could be two long shots worth a penny.
I have no words left for Team Quick-Step Floors: winning also in Harelbeke means they dominated all the six belgian one-day races of the year so far. Their Gent-Wevelgem team is frightening as at least 5 or 6 elements have chances to win this races, which means the tactical advantage of the blue team is a huge one. Chances for a long-range attack could come with Florian Senechal (66/1) and Yves Lampaert (50/1), on-form Niki Terpstra (22/1), cobble-king Zdenek Stybar (22/1) and the eternal Philippe Gilbert (18/1) can all shine on the Kemmelberg and create a gap, while Elia Viviani (10/1) would be one of the fastest sprinter in a bunch finale. A fine team, will they end this week with 7 wins in 7 races? They can.
Lotto Soudal Team lines up last year’s 2nd placed Jens Keukeleire (40/1) and not much else. The belgian is one of the best riders in this kind of races but his crash in Milano-Sanremo is affecting his form in this opening belgian week: his E3 was far from a good race and I’m not sure he will be among the protagonists on Sunday. Jens Debusschere (33/1) is Lotto’s best chance in a sprint but I think it will be hard for him to beat men like Kristoff, Demare, Viviani, Groenewegen or Colbrelli in a fast and flat finale. Similar talk for Team AG2R, who put all their hopes on Oliver Naesen’s shoulders (33/1): the belgian talent finished 4th his E3, sign his form is very good, but doing even better will be an hard task for him on Sunday.
Another top WT team with chances to impress in this Gent-Wevelgem is Team SKY: best chances for the brits is Gianni Moscon (33/1), who needs a move from long distance though, maybe following the attacks of other team captains. Another chance I spot for them is Dylan Van Baarle (100/1), who could be there in the end both to support Moscon or trying his luck. SKY’s chance in a fast finish is the young norwegian Kristoffer Halvorsen (125/1), who recently performed very well both in Handzame and in the Abu Dhabi Tour but crashed yesterday in E3 and retired. About Team Astana, prices are very good if you want to back Magnus Cort Nielsen (40/1) or Alexey Lutsenko (66/1): both have in my opinion good chances of earning a top result, the dane in a sprint and the kazakh with a move on the climb. Both are in a good condition and they will be Astana’s two best cards for tomorrow.
From other top teams, I would spend a few words for Team Mitchelton Scott, a team which could end Gent-Wevelgem with a good results either in a sprint or with an attack on the final climbs with the same man, Matteo Trentin (20/1): the italian has now recovered from his early injury and looks to shine in the classics he loves. Sunday is a good chance for him, since he can climb, follow moves and also has a fast kick in a sprint. Team Drapac-Education First has a card both for an attack from the distance, which is Sep Vanmarcke (33/1), and for a sprint, in Sacha Modolo (50/1). I don’t rate the chance of the italian sprinter pretty high, even if the price is a good one, while I like very much the odds for the belgian: he is an experienced rider when we talk about cobbles and he showed it also in Harelbeke, earning a good 6th place. If attacks come, he will be there.
Talking about teams with a top sprinter, Team UAE will hope for a fast finale where Alexander Kristoff (14/1) will play his cards. The norwegian sprinter likes this kind of hard but not too hard races, with some cobbles and long distances to be covered. If it comes to a sprint, he could have one of the most fresh pair of legs in the peloton. Team Lotto NL Jumbo have Dylan Groenewegen at 8/1, as the shortest priced sprinter of the race: the dutch had a great first half of 2018, with a dominant win in KBK as the highlight. He comes in Gent with the support of Leezer, Roosen and Van Emden, which means he has to be the one to be worried about if it ends in a sprint. Team Groupama FDJ will hope for a sprint too, having in their line up a fast horse like Arnaud Demare (12/1): the french sprinter uses to deal good with cobbles and he will surely be there in the end if the bunch will be able to set things for a sprint: he will receive help from trusted men like Konovalovas and Guarnieri. Team Katusha has Marcel Kittel (66/1) but I think the german might struggle a bit on the steep belgian cobbled climbs.
Team Trek Segafredo comes to Gent-Wevelgem in the same situation of E3 Harelbeke, which means Jesper Stuyven (20/1) is their best card throughout the race, while John Degenkolb (66/1) is the man for a fast finale from the sprinting bunch. I can’t see any of them winning this race, though. Team Sunweb could play a protagonist role on Sunday: in Michael Matthews (25/1, with two races in 2018 and two top15 so far) and Ed Theuns (33/1) they have two fast sprinters who are also able to climb and follow moves of little groups during the race. If playing the right team strategy, Sunweb can place one of them even on the podium. Team Bahrain Merida could share a similar thought with Sonny Colbrelli (25/1) and Heinrich Haussler (80/1), both good but not good enough in Harelbeke. I think a top5 will be the best result they can aim for.
To conclude, a look to continental teams: Team Cofidis will look for a lucky breakaway (unlikely) or for a sprint with Christophe Laporte (80/1). Team Vital Concept should be all behind Bryan Coquard (66/1) while Team Roompot will be racing for Pim Lightart (200/1). I can see chances for a good performance for Amaury Capiot (Sport Vlaanderen, 80/1), Timothy Dupont and Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty Gobert, both 200/1).
After a long and detailed anlysis, it’s time to decide who to pick for Gent-Wevelgem. Peter Sagan will be looking for revenge and I can already see him attacking to avoid a sprint and have his chance for another win in Wevelgem. I take him big at 4/1 (also available at 5.5 and 6 elswhere). In addition, I will be on Sep Vanmarcke EW at 33/1, Oliver Naesen EW at 33/1 and Alexey Lutsenko EW at 66/1 for the attackers team. On Elia Viviani EW at 10/1 and Matteo Trentin EW at 21/1 for a faster finish.
Just a suggestion: I think some websites like 888sport, Unibet and others have a wrong h2h, which is Timothy Dupont vs Edward Planckaert, with Dupont to beat E. Planckaert at 1.65/1.72. I think it should have been Baptiste Planckaert, not Edward, so it’s a good value at 1.65/1.72 for me…
Thanks for reading!