A youthful race, Gent-Wevelgem Women is only embarking on its fifth edition in 2016 but what it lacks in history it makes up for in stature. This year’s event has earned a coveted spot on the inaugural Women’s WorldTour, the fourth round of a 17-event series, and it’s nestled comfortably between the history book’s heavyweights Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio and Women’s Tour of Flanders.
On March 27, the women will race for 115km, and contest five climbs; two times up the Kemmelberg (one time up each side), which has a 23 per cent gradiant on one side, two times up the Monteberg and one trip up the Baneberg, which is only a few hundred metres but maxes out at roughly 20 per cent. Despite the climbs, it is still considered a flatter course and is said to be one for the sprinters. That being said, former winners of the race include Floortje Mackaij in 2015, American Lauren Hall in 2013, Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild in 2013 and Armitstead won the event in 2012.
The best riders in professional women’s bike racing will line up in Gent to contest the one-day classic. World champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) will line up as the leader of the Women’s WorldTour after winning two of the first three rounds; Strade Bianche and Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio. Her teammate Chantal Blaak won the round at Ronde van Drenthe and Le Samyn des Dames, and the pair will make a fierce combination to contest against.
Armitstead is leading the Women’s WorldTour with 240 points. She has 60 points more than runner-up Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) and 85 points more than third places in the standings Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5). All are sure to be on the start line to contest the victory on Sunday.
Liv Plantur’s Floortje Mackaij won the 2015 Gent Wevelgem leaving Janneke Ensing (Parkhotel Valkenburg Continental Team) in second and Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5) in third. And she will also be on the start line wearing the number 1 bib. She brings with her a strong sprinter in Leah Kirchmann, and they will likely key off of one another in breakaways and in the event of a bunch sprint.
Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank’s Hall will return to have another go at victory, Mackaij and Armitstead are also expected to be on the start line with their respective teams. Other strong contenders for the victory are Wiggle High5 duo Jolien D’Hoore and Emma Johansson, Boels-Dolmans riders Megan Guarnier and Blaak, Rabo-Liv’s Thalita De Jong and Lucinda Brand, and Gracie Elvin of Orica-AIS, who has been represented in almost every important breakaway during this classics season.
Never to be discounted for a sprint victory is Shelley Olds (Cylance) or Marta Bastianelli (Ale Cipollini), winner of Omloop van het Hageland, and if the race comes down to attrition look for Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla) and Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM).