The top one-day racers in the world will unite for the fourth round of the Women's WorldTour at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. The sprinters will line up in full force looking for some redemption after Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) thwarted their chance at a small group sprint with a winning late-race attack that netted her the win at Thursday's Brugge-De Panne.
Gent-Wevelgem has returned to its traditional spring spot on the calendar, March 28, after being held in October last year as part of the late-season revised calendar, and won by Jolien D'hoore (SD Worx).
The start of Gent-Wevelgem was moved from Ypres' Grote Markt to the Menin Gate last year, but will likely keep a similar route for this year's edition. The race is not accessible to spectators on climbs or on cobbled sectors as organisers have taken steps to minimise COVID-19 risks in the region.
What we can anticipate is that the women will race 141 kilometres with several main climbs such as the Beneberg, Monteberg, and Kemelberg en route to the finish in Wevelgem.
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How the race unfolded in 2020
Who to watch in 2021
Jolien D'hoore (SD Worx) - D'hoore is the defending champion and an outright favourite to win in Wevelgem again. She showed great form at Brugge-De Panne on Thursday and her team, once again, played strong tactics to protect her for the finale, only to be outdone by lone attacker and eventual winner Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange). D'hoore finished third in De Panne, but the route in Gent-Wevelgem might suit her even better with a few punchy climbs and a selection of cobbles that cater to her skills. SD Worx line up with multiple contenders, which will play into their strength in numbers. While former winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak will not be on the start line, look out for Amy Pieters.
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) - Double Belgium champion Kopecky has displayed immense strength and versatility in the one-day races this spring with fourth places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Nokere Koerse, and Brugge-De Panne, plus a victory at Le Samyn. She is so close to capturing a top-tier victory this spring. Her strength and determination were evident in her quick bridge across to the winning split in a crosswind-swept Brugge-De Panne, only to take another fourth place. She was second to D'hoore at Gent-Wevelgem last year, and will also benefit from the climbs and cobbles, so watch for her to take the win in Wevelgem.
Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) - Wiebes was on the wrong side of the winning split at Brugge-De Panne and she will want to make up for that mistake in Wevelgem. The finish in Wevelgem might suit a pure sprinter like Wiebes better but she was second in the 2019 edition of Gent-Wevelgem and is no doubt looking to take a season's first top-tier win for her new Team DSM. She hasn't quite dominated the sprints as we might have expected so far this year, but she could still be recovering from a crash at the Healthy Ageing Tour earlier this month. She is already a proven sprinter, and at just 22 years old, if she doesn't win Gent-Wevelgem this year, there is no doubt that she will win it in the future.
Kirsten Wild and Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) - Wild proved to be in great form at Brugge-De Panne, riding into the front split with the strongest contenders and in prime position to go for the sprint. It's hard to choose between her and teammate Lisa Brennauer, as they work so well together and either can win given the right circumstances. Wild won the 2013 and 2019 editions of Gent-Wevelgem, and will be saved for a sprint card to play at the end of the race. Watch for Brennauer to either lead out Wild or make a late-race attack for the win.
Chloe Hosking and Lizzie Diegnan (Trek-Segafredo) - Another sprint contender that was also in the right move at Brugge-De Panne is Hosking, who finished seventh. Hosking made good use of her teammate Lauretta Hanson in the closing kilometres, as well as Amalie Dideriksen earlier in the race. At Gent-Wevelgem, she will have the added strength of Ellen Van Dijk and Women's WorldTour leader Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan. The team hired Hosking and Dideriksen to fill a sprinter's gap on the team, specifically for races like this, to allow their duo of Longo Borghini and Deignan some reprieve throughout the season. Watch for the Trek-Segafredo sprint team in Wevelgem, but when push comes to shove, Longo Borghini and Deignan are always contenders for the win.
Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) - It's only a matter of time before Norsgaard wins a major sprint on the Women's WorldTour. Like Liv Racing's Kopecky, Norsgaard is a step away from a one-day Classic win after finishing second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and at Brugge-De Panne. At both races she won the group sprint behind solo winners Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange), respectively.
Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange) - Roy suffered a tumble at Brugge-De Panne but luckily had a softer landing in the long grass at the side for the road and didn't suffer any injuries. The Australian champion is in top form, and while her teammate Brown powered to the victory in De Panne, Roy will now look to Gent-Wevelgem. She was fourth last year and will line up with a strong team that includes Jessica Roberts, Teniel Campbell, Arianna Fidanza and Brown.
View the full list of contenders here.
Organisers Flanders Classics have opted to keep the route under wraps to avoid attracting spectators to the cobbled sectors or climbs due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The women's route could be similar to last year's route of 141 kilometres, starting from Ypres' Menin Gate with several main climbs such as the Scherpenberg (61km), Vidaigneberg (65km), Beneberg (67km), Monteberg (72km), Kemelberg (74km), followed by another time up the Monteberg (104km) and Kemmelberg (106km), before a flat 30km run-in to the finish in Wevelgem.
There are no route maps or profiles available at this time.
What to expect
We can expect the teams with powerful sprinters to try again for victory in Wevelgem after losing out to Grace Brown's gutsy solo victory in De Panne three days earlier.
Many of the WorldTeams such as Trek-Segafredo, SD Worx, Liv Racing, Movistar, Alè BTC Ljubljana Cipollini, Team DSM and Team BikeExchange have sprinters capable of contenting the win and teams strong enough to bring back dangerous breakaways and organise powerful lead-out trains.
However, Gent-Wevelgem is not a pure sprinter's race, and has been won from a small group and even a breakaway in previous editions. The route's cobbled sectors and punchy climbs, particularly the double Monteberg-Kemelberg make room for some unpredictability and that is where the opportunists can take advantage of the race situation and vie for the win. And there could, one again, be strong gusts of wind up to 60kph, so there's a chance of echelons in the peloton.
Riders like Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, Grace Brown, Lisa Brennauer, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), and former winner Floortje Mackaij (Team DSM) are savvy enough to pick a perfect time to attack and strong enough to stick it out until the end.
Strengths are spread more evenly among teams racing in the women's peloton this year, so while the sprinters might have the upper-hand on a course like Gent-Wevelgem, there's always a chance that a breakaway could catch them off guard and succeed.
- SD Worx
- Lotto Soudal Ladies
- Liv Racing
- NXTG Racing
- Trek-Segafredo Women
- Bingoal Casino - Chevalmeire Cycling Team
- Alè BTC Ljubljana Cipollini
- Canyon-SRAM Racing
- Movistar Team
- FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
- Team DSM
- Team BikeExchange
- Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling
- Valcar - Travel & Service
- Parkhotel Valkenburg
- Team TIBCO - Silicon Valley Bank
- Doltcini - Van Eyck Sport
- Team Jumbo-Visma Women
- Multum Accountants Ladies Cycling Team
- Team Rupelcleaning
- Drops - Le Col
- Team Coop - Hitec Products
- A.R. Monex Women's Pro Cycling Team
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