Traffic clogs Gent-Wevelgem

The race heads down the Kemmelberg.

The race heads down the Kemmelberg. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Repeat issue noted by ProTour organizers

By Brecht Decaluwé in Wevelgem

During the 70th Gent-Wevelgem, traffic issues brought back memories of the controversial victory of local hero Nico Mattan. In the 2005 edition of the race, the Belgian seemed to get a draft as he flew past Juan Antonio Flecha during the last kilometres. This year, a large amount of traffic formed a sort of windshield against the headwind for the breakaway riders, and organizer Hans De Clercq couldn't do much about it right away.

Probably the race wouldn't have developed any differently, but it doesn't put the race organization in the best light going into new negotiations with the ProTour. The last four editions of Gent-Wevelgem have been on the Pro Tour calendar, and the Belgian race is keen on extending the deal.

Cyclingnews talked with a motorbike rider who witnessed the mess during the finale. Koen Haedens drives a photographer motorbike, and he explained that the photographers weren't to blame. "There was one moment where all traffic was coming together. There was a breakaway that only had a small gap on the first chasing group. In between, there was a car and five motorbikes. Three of them were from the VRT (Belgian Public TV and radio) with one for the camera, one for the commentary and one for the radio. Then there was also the 'regulateur' and the race 'commissaire' from the UCI. And ok, there was one photographer as well, but for once we are not to blame, it's the organization and the police that should be looked at.

"I don't even know what the police were doing there. They should be 300 metres further up the road, but they probably wanted to see a bit of the race," Haedens pondered their presence and said the congestion was a local issue.

He cited other races without the same problem. "I mean, in Harelbeke [E3 Prijs] there's a baker who's sponsoring and today it's the local butcher who's important, and they all want to have the best spot in the race. Although the organizers are trying hard, I'm sure this wouldn't happen in Paris-Roubaix, or the Tour de France. In those races the same people return at each event, and they know exactly who's allowed to pass and who's not. They know where everybody should be," said Haedens who was referring to professional organizers, Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO).

The UCI's Pro Tour manager Alain Rumpf saw the problems, but said he felt that that the race would not have ended any differently. "I talked with the commissaires and they told me there were too many motorbikes. We have to look into this and make sure we can solve these problems if the race is still in the ProTour next year," Rumpf said to Cyclingnews.

Gent-Wevelgem is in the last year of its ProTour contract, and Rumpf explained that many teams are keen on their spot. "A lot of races are interested to join the ProTour and clearly Gent-Wevelgem is doing whatever they can to stay on the calendar. I feel that they have improved a lot since joining the ProTour," said Rumpf, complimentary to the Belgian organizers.

Rumpf was happy to see that the ProTour got rolling with three events in one week. "The rankings will start to have the strongest riders on top. Then again, the riders who performed well in Gent-Wevelgem are the guys who were strong Down Under. For sure, the organizers aren't always happy with an unknown rider on their winner's list, but a couple of years later they think differently. For example the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt had an unknown winner with a certain Alessandro Petacchi, but the young Italian proved to be one of the biggest stars they ever had on the winner's list," Rumpf recalled with a smile.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the 70th Gent-Wevelgem.

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