The “sprinters' Classic”, Gent-Wevelgem is often one of the most exciting races on the calendar, playing a key role in Flemish Cycling Week and offering a hefty amount of UCI WorldTour points the winner.
The race is famous for attackers trying to derail the sprint trains as a number of the world’s top fast men line up to add the race, which dates all the way back to 1934, to their palmares.
As is the case with the iconic Belgian Classics, a tightly knit cluster of climbs within a short space of time has the potential to cause splits in the bunch.
A slight reduction in the number of climbs on last year – from 11 to 10 – is unlikely to make the race any easier to tame.
The race start moves to the town of Gistel due to snow and as a result the parcours is now 45km shorter.With the first “hellingen” climb (each to be reviewed on Sunday) not arriving until the 131km mark, a relatively flat start to the day should see an early attack move clear.
The first climb, the Casselberg, is tackled twice as the riders are taken on a small lap of Cassel, before the road heads into the first of two laps of a 15km circuit comprising of three “bergs” that will conspire to break up the race.
The Baneberg (163km) is first up, with positioning crucial ahead of the infamous Kemmelberg 8km further down the road and then the Monteberg at 175km. The Kemmelberg, in particular, is feared not only for its steep ramps, but also the descent off the top, which has seen many crashes down the years.
The riders then return back for a second loop, with a second attack of the Baneberg (181km) setting things up nicely for the run back to the Kemmelberg and its 23 per cent gradient.
At 46km from the finish, the climb will no doubt see some of the more opportunistic attackers chance their arm, while the sprinters’ teams will have to be on their toes and ready to drag back the moves.
The final chance for escapees to make time is the final climb over the Monteberg. After that, while still undulating to begin with, a flatter run into Wevelgem should allow the peloton some crucial kilometres to drag back their opposition.
Team Sky history
Edvald Boasson Hagen fifth place last year and Ian Stannard's gutsy late breakaway attempt in 2011 are the nearest Team Sky have come to tasting victory in Gent-Wevelgem, but that does not mean the team's riders do not have a good record in the event. Bernhard Eisel won from a select group in 2010, while Boasson Hagen won a two-man sprint a year earlier. That same race also saw Mathew Hayman and Jeremy Hunt in the top 10, while Juan Antonio Flecha took second in 2005.