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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - QuickStep) at the finish
Despite forecasts for snow and below freezing temperatures Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem looks set to go ahead. Race organisers have set up a number of contingency plans including cutting sections from the course and while they’ve stated that rider safety is of course paramount, they are determined for the race to go ahead.
The race switched from its mid-week slot in 2011 but its WorldTour status has remained along with its propensity to through up a varied and unpredictable race.
Typically it offers sprinters with their best chance of winning a one-day race in Belgium – Scheldeprijs aside – and Mark Cavendish will be depending on his Omega-Pharma QuickStep team to control the race for much of the day. The British rider put in a solid ride in Milan-San Remo, netting his first top ten since winning the race in 2009 but what was most telling was Cavendish’s post-race interview in which he subtly asked team manager Patrick Lefevere to back him – something the manager confirmed would happen at E3 on Friday. Tom Boonen’s meek ride into Harelbeke cements Cavendish as the team’s best option but Boonen still offers a sensible plan B.
If E3 suggested anything other than that Fabian Cancellara is back to his scary best and that Peter Sagan still isn’t quite the finished product it was that Omega are not going to have everything their own way and especially in the manner they dominated the spring of 2012 but with Lotto, GreenEdge and Cannondale all looking for a sprint, the Belgian dynasty can at least rely on some cooperation.
Sky again line up with options with two former winners in Edvald Boasson Hagen and Bernhard Eisel but once more the British team could be hampered by indecision over who their team leader is. Both riders can sprint, Eisel’s even beaten Cavendish this season, but there’s no way the Austrian can work for another set of riders and then be expected to switch on his sprinting legs.
Another team with choices to make over leadership is BMC. Previous winner Thor Hushovd appeared to struggle at E3, while Philippe Gilbert isn't in top form yet. Daniel Oss finished third on Friday and along with Greg Van Avermaet and Taylor Phinney have reasonable arguments for leadership.
The presence of Andre Greipel (Lotto) Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Matt Goss (Orica GreenEdge) and Matti Breschel (SaxoBank) all have the potential to contest the race should a sprint settle affairs.
Yet don’t rule out the race being decided by a small attack or solo move as E3. Cancellara is clearly on form and after a disappointing 2012 another win could be the hammer blow he needs to break all his competition between now and the Tour of Flanders. If he surges clear on one of the final climbs it could be a case of every rider for himself.
In terms of parcours the race once will now begin from Gistel, at the usual 45km mark.
From there the race swings north-west towards the coast and Oostende. After heading inland again the climbing begins with the first of 10 bergs starting at 131.9km with the Casselberg. It’s used again 7 kilometres later before the race moves towards more testing terrain with the Catsberg at 153.9km and Kokereelberg at 157.6km.
The peloton then begin a two lap section that includes the Baneberg, the iconic Kemmelberg and the Monteberg but with the final climb at 193km and a relatively flat run to the finish the sprints should dominate. The run from the Montegberg is slightly different from last year with a tour through the town of Ieper included.
While the sprinters should come to the fore the weather could help provide a different outcome all together. With Flanders just a week away it’s highly likely that the cold conditions and snow could see a number of protagonists head for the warmth of the team buses early in the race and depleted teams could see a select group hold off the remaining sprinters.