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Wind conditions set to tilt Gent-Wevelgem towards attackers

Dutch Mathieu van der Poel of AlpecinFenix German John Degenkolb of Lotto Soudal and Belgian Wout Van Aert of Team JumboVisma pictured during the GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields one day cycling race 2325 km Sunday 11 October 2020 in Wevelgem BELGA PHOTO POOL NICO VEREECKEN Photo by POOL NICO VEREECKENBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Buoyed by victory at the Classic Brugge-De Panne in midweek, Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) leads the cadre of sprinters vying to win Gent-Wevelgem, but the race director has noted that wind conditions on Sunday look set to favour attackers.

Gent-Wevelgem’s succession of cobbled climbs near the Franco-Belgian bordered precedes a flat and fast run-in to the finish, meaning that the race is always delicately balanced between the sprinters and the escapees.

Wind direction can often play a pivotal role in tipping the scales and race director Hans De Clercq maintains the south-westerly wind of 30kph forecast for Sunday could cause the race to break up into echelons even ahead of its passage through the exposed flatlands of De Moeren.

“That’s a crosswind, so ideal for making war,” De Clercq said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. “After about 60 kilometres […] the battle can already begin. There is a long stretch of racing through open plains, followed by the passage through De Moeren. The peloton could be torn apart quickly.”

The elite men’s race features some 11 climbs, including three ascents of the Kemmelberg. The 34km that separate the final ascent of the Kemmelberg from the finish often gives the sprinters’ teams a chance to regroup, but the anticipated tailwind in the finale might complicate their task.

The elite women’s race will be exposed to the potential crosswinds on its run from the start in Leper towards De Panne, while the race concludes with the same finale as the men, over the Kemmelberg and towards Wevelgem.

“Maybe it comes a bit from the side but it is beneficial for the attackers anyway. If a group is clear after the last passage on the Kemmelberg, it is still 34 kilometres, but there is a chance they can stay ahead,” said De Clercq. “Like in 2017, when Greg Van Avermaet won. Under his leadership, an elite group emerged after the Kemmelberg, from which he jumped away together with Jens Keukeleire in the final phase. Such a scenario is now possible again.”

Regardless of the conditions on Sunday afternoon, Bennett’s Deceuninck-QuickStep squad will, as ever, have multiple options at Gent-Wevelgem, even without E3 Saxo Bank Classic winner Kasper Asgreen and world champion Julian Alaphilippe up. Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert, Davide Ballerini and Stijn Steels will also line out alongside Bennett and his lead-out man Michael Mørkøv.

“Gent-Wevelgem is a great race, always entertaining, with plenty of action long before the finish. We could have echelons this year, which will make for a very nervous race, but we are very confident, especially after our win on Friday,” said Deceuninck-QuickStep directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters. “Bennett can feature in the finale and fight for a good result, but we have more than one card to play on Sunday, depending on what happens on the Kemmelberg.”

Mads Pedersen won the men's race at the rescheduled 2020 Gent-Wevelgem last October, while Jolien D'hoore won the women's race.