Gent-Wevelgem wildcard invitation clears the way for Mathieu van der Poel

The organisers of Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders Classics, invited seven wildcard teams to compete in the March 31 race alongside the 18 WorldTour teams, confirming the inclusion of the Corendon-Circus squad of new cyclo-cross world champion Mathieu van der Poel.

Last week, Flanders Classics named Corendon-Circus alongside Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty-Gobert, Wallonie Bruxelles, Direct Energie, Cofidis, Solutions Crédits and Roompot-Charles for Omloop het Nieuwsblad. The same teams earned wildcard spots for Gent-Wevelgem.

Flanders Classics announced in December that Van der Poel would compete in Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars Door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders and the Brabantse Pijl, so the inclusion of the newly-upgraded Pro Continental team comes as no surprise.

Expecations for Van der Poel are high after the stand-out performance of his rival Wout van Aert in the 2018 Tour of Flanders. After surpassing father Adrie van der Poel's cyclo-cross palmares as double world champion, Mathieu van der Poel was asked by Sporza if he would next try to match his father by winning the Tour of Flanders.

"That would be nice, but right now it's a bit too high a level," Mathieu van der Poel said after beating Van Aert to the rainbow jersey on Sunday in Bogense, Denmark. "The world title makes it easier to work towards the Classics," he added, but said he would not limit himself to only racing road.

Despite its name, Gent-Wevelgem starts in nearby Deinze, meandering through West Flanders and into France and back, taking in 10 climbs and three sections of dirt roads (Plugstreets) over 251.5km before the finish in Wevelgem.

Peter Sagan won the 2018 edition in a sprint over Elia Viviani and Arnaud Demare.

Scott Sunderland, the new general race director for Flanders Classics, spoke about the selections for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which begins in Gent and ends in Ninove at km 200, saying "without a doubt, [they] will prove to be an asset to the race. Some teams have shown in the past that they dare to attack while playing an important role in the outcome of the race."

All four of the Belgian Pro Continental squads were given a chance to "prove themselves on home soil", while the other three "have got some big names to their ranks, and they have earned the right to be there at the start in Gent."

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