Gent-Wevelgem will offer the best sprinters in the world a second chance at a bunch sprint this week after Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) secured a surprise and gutsy solo victory at the Classic Brugge-De Panne three days ago.
Organisers Flanders Classics have not announced the specific route details to avoid attracting spectators to the cobbled sectors or climbs due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the women's race could be similar to last year's route of 141 kilometres. The event will start from Ypres' Menin Gate with several main climbs including double ascents of the Monteberg and Kemmelberg, before a flat 30km run-in to the finish in Wevelgem.
The race is suited the sprinters, but cobbles, climbs and strong winds make the race unpredictable and so watch for the opportunists to take their chances at victory.
Cyclingnews selects just some of the contenders for the 2021 Gent-Wevelgem Women.
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Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange)
After the gutsy solo move that netted her the victory at the Classic Brugge-De Panne on Thursday, Brown is the one to watch for another late-race attack in Wevelgem.
She may not be the fastest sprinter, but she has the strength to make the front splits in the high winds and the power to launch a late-race move and hold off a charging peloton - this much she proved already in De Panne this week as well at in Brabantse Pijl last year.
“I’m excited to line up for Gent-Wevelgem tomorrow after such a great day at De Panne. I’m feeling confident in my own form, but also in the growing strength and cohesion of the whole team," Brown said ahead of the race.
"I think the wind will impact the race a lot more than it did on Thursday and combined with the dirt sectors and cobbled climbs we should see a very reduced group come towards the finish line. It will be a good race for me and for Sarah Roy. I hope that we can challenge together for the win in Wevelgem!”
Jolien D'hoore (SD Worx)
D'hoore is the defending champion and an outright favourite of the sprinters to win in Wevelgem again. She showed great form at the Classic Brugge-De Panne and her team, once again, played strong tactics to protect her for the finale, only to be outdone by lone attacker and eventual winner Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange).
D'hoore finished third in De Panne, but the route in Gent-Wevelgem might suit her better with a few punchy climbs and a selection of cobbles that cater to her skills.
SD Worx line up with multiple contenders, which will play into their strength in numbers. While former winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak will not be on the start line, look out for Amy Pieters.
"I started my sprint maybe a little bit too early," D'hoore said after De Panne where she finished behind Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) for third place. "But it was a great fun as I love riding in the echelons! I’ll do some easy spinning, and let’s try again in Gent this Sunday."
Emma Norsgaard (Movistar)
It's only a matter of time before Norsgaard wins a major sprint on the Women's WorldTour. She is a step away from a one-day Classic win after finishing second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and at the Classic Brugge-De Panne.
At both races she won the group sprint behind solo winners Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange), respectively. She has said that she loves tough races, and strong winds, so watch for her again at Gent-Wevelgem.
"I like these kind of races, against the wind, with strong pace, and in the end, everyone is tired, which suits my racing spirit, the wear and tear really favours me," said Norsgaard, who is leading the Women's WorldTour youth classification.
"I would like to finally get that win, and then I will be able to see this as my breakthrough year. I just love these races, and I’ll keep on fighting hard to take that victory.”
Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT)
Kirsten Wild, winner of the 2013 and 2019 editions of Gent-Wevelgem, proved to be in great form at the Classic Brugge-De Panne, riding into the front split with the strongest contenders and in prime position to go for the sprint. Her teammate Lisa Brennauer, was also there and in prime position to make a late-race attack before she flatted in the final 18 kilometres.
The pair make a great duo, both are strong in the crosswinds, and the team will likely save Wild for a sprint again, but watch for Brennauer to take her chances in a breakaway or late-race attack either on the final ascents of the Monteberg and Kemmelberg or on the long stretch to the finish line in Wevelgem.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Vos has had top 10s in all three races that she has started this season; 7th at Strade Bianche, 3rd at GP Oetingen, and 2nd at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. She is creeping closer and closer to a season's first victory and that could very well happen at Gent-Wevelgem.
Vos opted to skip the Classic Brugge-De Panne and so might come into this race a little fresher than her rivals who battled the strong crosswinds for 158km along the North Sea on Thursday.
She confirmed that she will target on Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Olympic Games and the Road World Championships, at so Gent-Wevelgem will be somewhat of a test to begin her cobbled classics campaign.
“The past few weeks were all about preparing for this period," Vos said. "There are some beautiful classics on the program in Flanders and even closer to home in the Netherlands. During this period you live towards a great goal every week. The last races went well and I’m looking forward to going at it again with the team on Sunday.”
“Gent-Wevelgem is a race in which different aspects provide the degree of difficulty. You have to be alert on the unpaved plugstreets and make sure you are in the right position in the hilly zone including the Kemmelberg. The wind can play a major role on the open roads and towards the final."
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing)
Double Belgium champion Kopecky has displayed strength and versatility in the one-day races this spring with fourth places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Nokere Koerse, and the Classic Brugge-De Panne, plus a victory at Le Samyn. She is so close to capturing a top-tier victory this spring.
Her strength and determination were evident in her quick bridge across to the winning split in a crosswind-swept Brugge-De Panne, only to take another fourth place. She was second to D'hoore at Gent-Wevelgem last year, and will also benefit from the climbs and cobbles, which are the perfect variables to showcase her strengths.
She has the strength to force a breakaway and contest a bunch sprint, so however the race plays out, she will be there in the final to contest for the win.
She has a strong team with Alison Jackson, Jeanne Korevaar, Evy Kuijpers, Sofia Bertizzolo and Soraya Paladin.
“Gent-Wevelgem is normally music to the ears of the sprinters, so it will be essential to keep Lotte Kopecky and Sofia Bertizzolo in front. In addition, we must of course be attentive to any developments in the race leading to other scenarios," said Paladin.
Lizzie Diegnan (Trek-Segafredo)
The team have options: Hosking for a sprint, Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk for a breakaway, and Deignan as a wildcard who is capable of either in Wevelgem.
Hosking is in good form and finished seventh at the Classic Brugge-De Panne. She made good use of her teammate Lauretta Hanson in the closing kilometres of De Panne, while Amalie Dideriksen was caught out in the crashes and echelons earlier in the race.
The team hired Hosking and Dideriksen this year to fill a sprinter's gap on the team, specifically for races like this, to allow their duo of Longo Borghini and Deignan some reprieve throughout the season, and allow them more cards to play in the flatter races.
Deignan is focused on the cobbled Classics; Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Watch for the Trek-Segafredo sprint team in Wevelgem, but when push comes to shove, Longo Borghini and Deignan are always contenders for the win no matter what scenario plays out.
Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange)
Roy suffered a tumble at the Classic Brugge-De Panne but luckily had a softer landing in the long grass at the side for the road and didn't suffer any injuries. The Australian champion is in top form, and while her teammate Brown powered to the victory in De Panne, Roy will now look to Gent-Wevelgem.
She was fourth last year and will line up with a strong team that includes Jessica Roberts, Teniel Campbell, Arianna Fidanza and Brown.
“We can see that Brown is in really great shape and we know that Roy is always up there, so I think we have two pretty clear leaders with a strong back-up and support behind them," said Team BikeExchange director Martin Vestby.
“It’s forecast for a lot of wind, that can make it a bit hectic before you come into the middle section with all the climbs and everything that happens there. So, I think it’s going to be, and I hope there’s going to be more racing from the start.”
Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM)
Wiebes was on the wrong side of the winning split at the Classic Brugge-De Panne and she will want to make up for that mistake in Wevelgem. The finish in Wevelgem might suit a pure sprinter like Wiebes better but she was second in the 2019 edition of Gent-Wevelgem and is no doubt looking to take a season's first top-tier win for her new Team DSM.
She hasn't quite dominated the sprints as we might have expected so far this year, but she could still be recovering from a crash at the Healthy Ageing Tour earlier this month. She is already a proven sprinter, and at just 22 years old, if she doesn't win Gent-Wevelgem this year, there is no doubt that she will win it in the future.
“Gent Wevelgem is in an interesting race with a testing parcours. Last year we saw the race split up over the cobbled climbs in the middle. We expect that something like that could happen again this year but we can’t also discount a sprint, as the two editions before that have ended in fast finishes," said Team DSM director Albert Timmer.
"We have Lorena in the team as our sprinter if it comes back together for the finale and we’ll work to position her for that. Likewise, in the shape of Liane [Lippert] and Floortje [Mackaij] we have two riders who can go on the attack and cover the moves on the Kemmelberg, allowing us to race on the front foot, giving us another option and letting us save energy in the group behind.”
Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljublana)
Marta Bastianelli is not quite at her winning form of 2018 and 2019, but she is working her way forward. She missed the move at the Classic Brugge-De Panne but had a strong teammate in Marlen Reusser to help navigate the gaps and crosswinds. Expect this pair of Bastianelli and Reusser to once again be involved at the front of the race toward Wevelgam.
Bastianelli is a former world champion and one-day race specialist, who has won the Gent-Wevelgem (2018), Ronde van Drenthe (2019), and Tour of Flanders (2019). She won Gent-Wevelgem from a bunch sprint, but let's not forget that she won Tour of Flanders from a late-race attack, so she is capable of both. She admits that she is not yet at 100 per cent form, but loves this race, and she is a contender on Sunday.
Elisa Balsamo (Valcar Travel & Service)
Fresh off a victory at GP Oetingen, Elisa Balsamo was also in the front split at the Classic Brugge De-Panne and finished fifth. She is a very fast sprinter but also powerful on the climbs, cobbles and in the high winds.
The fact that she made the front split in De Panne means that she has good positioning, she's strong and not willing to give up the front of the race. She was also seventh at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, which means she's strong on the punchy and longer climbs.
She may not have a team that is strong enough to help her to the very end, like SD Worx or Trek-Segafredo do, and that is especially if splits form early-on, but she knows how to keep herself protected and out of trouble, and she is strong enough to be in the right moves and sprint at the end.
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