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On the start of Gent-Wevelgem - gallery

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Fabian Cancellara arrives at sign on

Fabian Cancellara arrives at sign on (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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A Dimension Data team car ready to go ahead of the start

A Dimension Data team car ready to go ahead of the start (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Edvald Boasson Hagen is feeling better after missing E3 Harelbeke through illness

Edvald Boasson Hagen is feeling better after missing E3 Harelbeke through illness (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Carlos Betancur is riding some of the Classics

Carlos Betancur is riding some of the Classics (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Tyler Farrar and Matt Brammeier make their way down the steep steps from sign on

Tyler Farrar and Matt Brammeier make their way down the steep steps from sign on (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Movistar wrap up warm against the Belgian weather

Movistar wrap up warm against the Belgian weather (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Peter Sagan deep in thought

Peter Sagan deep in thought (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Christian Knees before sign on

Christian Knees before sign on (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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A thoughtful looking Luke Rowe waits to sign on

A thoughtful looking Luke Rowe waits to sign on (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Tom Boonen talks to the press

Tom Boonen talks to the press (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Greg Van Avermaet returns from illness

Greg Van Avermaet returns from illness (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Fernando Gaviria signs some autographs

Fernando Gaviria signs some autographs (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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The riders get ready at the start line

The riders get ready at the start line (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Arnaud Demare finished second in 2014

Arnaud Demare finished second in 2014 (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Andre Greipel back in action

Andre Greipel back in action (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Jens Keukeleire talks to Sporza ahead of the start

Jens Keukeleire talks to Sporza ahead of the start (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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A smile from Sven Erik Bystrom

A smile from Sven Erik Bystrom (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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One of the Giant-Alpecin mechanics makes sure that all the tyres have the right pressure

One of the Giant-Alpecin mechanics makes sure that all the tyres have the right pressure (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Jack Bauer greets a fan at the start

Jack Bauer greets a fan at the start (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Lampre-Merida's Luka Pibernik

Lampre-Merida's Luka Pibernik (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Heinrich Haussler puts on his cold weather gear

Heinrich Haussler puts on his cold weather gear (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Roy Curvers enjoys a joke with some members of the LottoNL-Jumbo team

Roy Curvers enjoys a joke with some members of the LottoNL-Jumbo team (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Sep Vanmarcke outside his team bus

Sep Vanmarcke outside his team bus (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Zico Waeytens in his shades

Zico Waeytens in his shades (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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All the climbs listed on the stem of each of Katusha's Canyon's

All the climbs listed on the stem of each of Katusha's Canyon's (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Nacer Bouhanni made a late decision to ride Gent-Wevelgem

Nacer Bouhanni made a late decision to ride Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Matti Breschel back in action after illness

Matti Breschel back in action after illness (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Teisj Benoot talks to the press

Teisj Benoot talks to the press (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Norwegian fans wait outside the Dimension Data bus

Norwegian fans wait outside the Dimension Data bus (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Marco Haller rides to sign on

Marco Haller rides to sign on (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Orica-GreenEdge make their way to sign on

Orica-GreenEdge make their way to sign on (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Edvald Boasson Hagen focuses buefore the start

Edvald Boasson Hagen focuses buefore the start (Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)

The usual festive atmosphere has, understandably, not quite yet returned, but the Flemish cycling carnival moved on to Deinze on Sunday morning for the start of Gent-Wevelgem. While Friday’s E3 Harelbeke doubles as something of a dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem has a character of its own, with sprinters and Ronde contenders alike all in the mix for victory on Menenstraat.

The big news ahead of the start was the absence of Alexander Kristoff (Kastusha) due to illness. The Norwegian had already struggled at E3 Harelbeke on Friday, and will have undoubted cause for concern as he bids to defend his Tour of Flanders crown. Ian Stannard (Sky), a fine third at E3 Harelbeke, was another late withdrawal due to illness.

“It’s just a small flu, and I think some other guys in other teams have suffered with this. It’s a hard time of year to try and stay healthy, with the cold, but we will try to make the best out of it,” Kristoff’s teammate Sven Erik Bystrom told Cyclingnews. “Now Alexander will try to recover so that he has a good preparation for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen next Sunday, and then we will have to take one day at a time.”

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), meanwhile, was back in action after skipping E3 Harelbeke as a precaution due to an illness of his own. Winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Tirreno-Adriatico already this year, the Belgian downplayed his chances at the start. “No Easter eggs for me today. I’m feeling ok, but I’m not 100 percent,” he said. “If I can finish the race today, I’ll definitely be ok for the Tour of Flanders.”

The long trek to the Franco-Belgian border, through West Flanders flatlands redolent of Jacques Brel’s Plat Pays leaves the peloton exposed to the North Sea winds, and while conditions are not as extreme as twelve months ago, this race’s intrinsic difficulties remain.

"I expect a hard race, a tough race, a windy race. It’s going to be nervous. Gent-Wevelgem is famous for this. My priority is to come home healthy," Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) said. ““It is how it is, eh. It’s the same for everyone. It’s Gent-Wevelgem. So Gent-Wevelgem’s history is almost always like this – cold, snow, wind, the Kemmel. It is how it is.”

An untimely mechanical issue compromised Cancellara at E3 Harelbeke, but his forceful chase back and eventual 4th place augured well for his prospects at Flanders and Roubaix. “I went pretty deep so I don’t know much how I’ve recovered, because my almost coffee stop on the road was something unexpected,” he said.

“For me Harelbeke was important. Today we’ll see if it goes good, if the legs are there. But we have other cards to play and it’s important to have this. Edward [Theuns] is very fast and that’s important. Having him and Jasper [Stuyven] on the team is very nice. “

Cancellara is riding Gent-Wevelgem for the last time, but he is reluctant to dwell on the valedictory feel to his final Spring campaign in the professional peloton. “In Belgium it’s always really something special, but right now I don’t see it as every time being the last,” he said. “I’m focused on racing. I will take all the memories and nice warm things out, and enjoy them later.”

Fernando Gaviria, meanwhile, is lining out at Gent-Wevelgem for the first time in his short career and he is backed by a very strong Etixx-QuickStep team. The Colombian was in the mix for victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and will hope to compete with André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) et al in the event of a bunch sprint.

“I can learn a lot today. It’s a new race for me and it’s a particular one, with a lot of wind and difficult roads. Positioning will be important,” said Gaviria, who added that he had shelved his disappointment at crashing in the final kilometre of Milan-San Remo. “I can’t go back and change it, so I’m just getting on with things.”

Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ) warned that the wind would be an important factor. “With wind like that, it’s not necessarily going to be a sprint, so you have to pay attention to the echelons,” he said.

Démare’s rival Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was a late addition to the start list after he abandoned the Volta a Catalunya midweek – having already won the first two stages. “I’m enjoying good form. I did well in Catalunya by winning two stages, but I already felt bad during the second stage. It was a stomach problem,” he said. “On Friday I was feeling better and we decided to race here, and I got the ok to race here. There’s foul weather expected but I hope to feature in the front group if there’s a sprint for the victory.”

Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) has won Gent-Wevelgem three times, in 2004, 2011 and 2012. Another victory this afternoon would put him ahead of Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy, Mario Cipollini and Robert Van Eenaeme as the outright record holder. “It’s going to be a very nice race, I think,” he said.