Lotte Kopecky has finished runner-up at Gent-Wevelgem in each of the past two editions and will be out to make the third time the charm on Sunday. However, despite the consecutive podiums, the Team SD Worx rider knows she'll have to bend the race in her favour if she's to make it onto the top step.
Kopecky made her Gent-Wevelgem debut back in 2015 in a windswept baptism of fire for a 19-year-old, finishing in the main group six minutes down on the winner. She has steadily improved her results, finishing in the lead group in 2017, placing sixth in 2019, and then runner-up the past two years.
In the late-season 2020 edition, she was beaten by Jolien D'hoore in a small group sprint, before last year losing out to Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) from a much larger bunch.
"I got two times second already, so it's a race that suits me well," Kopecky told reporters this week at the Classic Brugge-De Panne.
Kopecky knows that victory won't come easily and that's partly because of the weather. Warm and calm conditions have graced northern Belgium this week, which has been welcomed by just about everyone, except for those who want their racing as hard as possible.
"A bit boring," was Kopecky's assessment of Brugge-De Panne. She rallied her teammates into trying to force some splits in the exposed plains of De Moeren but the wind was simply nowhere near strong enough and the race ambled towards a bunch sprint, where she worked for Lonneke Uneken.
Gent-Wevelgem is another race that can be ripped apart on a windy day but also see a bunch sprint on a calm day. If the latter came to pass, it's tough to see Kopecky out sprinting the likes of Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) and Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM), the two fastest finishers in the peloton who have both contested Gent-Wevelgem sprints in the past.
As she proved with her victory at Strade Bianche, Kopecky has developed from a sprinter into much more of a climber and all-rounder.
"Lotte can win so many races because she's an all-round talent. She has lot of speed after really hard final. That's her plus point," SD Worx director Lars Boom told Cyclingnews.
"If you saw her at Strade, that's a race with a lot of altitude metres, so she can climb and she can survive hard parcours. That means she can go multiple ways - she can win alone and win in a big group, but ideally the final will have been a hard one."
Despite Sunday's weather forecast, Kopecky can take heart from the changes to the route for the 2022 edition of Gent-Wevelgem, which seems to have been geared towards riders of her ilk. Almost 20 kilometres have been added to the distance, with a visit to De Moeren - a key flashpoint of the men's race - and ascents of both sides of the Kemmelberg introduced for the first time.
"In the end, it doesn't look like there will be so much wind. But we have two times up the Kemmelberg and also the steepest side of the Kemmelberg. I hope the race can be made harder there," Kopecky said.
"You also have to be alert all the way until the finish because if there's some wind in the last 20 kilometres, a lot of riders can be dropped already."
Boom confirmed that SD Worx would continue to play their multi-card approach that has served them so well in the Classics over the years. The indication from Wednesday was that Uneken could sit back and wait for a group sprint, while riders like Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak and Marlen Reusser look to rip up the race from range.
As for Kopecky, she doesn't sound keen to race too conservatively and will surely go for broke on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg.
"If I start the race with feelings of revenge after those second places? No, not at all," she said. "The Tour of Flanders remains my main goal, but if I get the chance to finally win Gent-Wevelgem, I will certainly not miss out on it."
SD Worx for Gent-Wevelgem: Elena Cecchini, Lotte Kopecky, Christine Majerus, Marlen Reusser, Lonneke Uneken, Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak.
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.