One of the mainstays of the spring series of Flanders classics, Gent-Wevelgem boasts a stellar line-up and a level of respect that almost matches that of a Monument. Often considered one for the fast riders of the pack, past editions have been won by pure sprinters and one-day specialists. It’s a race that’s often beset by inclement weather conditions with rain and crosswinds to contend with in addition to the challenging parcours.
This year will be the 84th edition of the race for the men, and the 11th for the women. Both races take place on the 27th March 2022.
Held annually in Flanders Fields, Gent-Wevelgem dates back to 1934. Sandwiched in between the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Dwars door Vlaanderen, it’s the second race of the so-called Flemish Week which culminates with the Tour of Flanders in early April.
Men's race route (Image: Gent Wevelgem Twitter)
Despite its name, the men’s race has not begun in Ghent for over a decade, instead beginning regularly in Ypres and passing under the Menin Gate memorial to the unknown allied soldiers lost in the First World War. The women’s race also begins in Ypres, and both races pass through the town again on their way into the finish. The men’s race is 248.9km long and the women’s is 159km.
Following its departure from Ypres, the race rolls out over the flatlands of Flanders Fields and towards De Panne, the flat roads continue for 91km for the men and 33km for women. The weather has often been known to cause havoc in this early part of the race, with almost inevitable crosswinds likely to bring about echelons and subsequent fracturing in the peloton, so teams will need to stay alert.
After De Panne, the race heads back inland along the French border and begins a series of ascents of the Flandrian Bergs or ‘hellingen’: eleven for the men, and seven for the women.
Although classed as a cobbled classic, Gent-Wevelgem covers different terrain to the other Flanders classics and subsequently does not feature any significant cobbled sectors. Instead, the most recent addition to the men’s parcours sees the inclusion of three semi-paved gravel roads known collectively as ‘Plugstreets’, providing another surface for the riders to contend with in a Belgian take on Strade Bianche-style gravel.
Women's race route (Credit: Gent-Wevelgem Twitter)
The most iconic feature of the race is the Kemmelberg, which the men will face three times, the third being the toughest as it takes on the Ossuaire approach. This means the riders are tested on a gradient of up to 23%. The women face the Kemmelberg twice with the second time being from the Ossuaire approach. This will likely be a decisive moment in the race and will whittle down the remaining contenders. There is the potential for long-range attacks from riders who feel they have the legs to make it stick.
Following the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, both men’s and women’s races traverse the 34.3km distance back to Wevelgem, through Ypres once again. This final section is flat, and those that remain will likely contest a sprint to decide the winner.
In 2021 it was double joy for Jumbo Visma, as Wout van Aert and Marianne Vos both sprinted for victory. Van Aert’s win came after an assured team performance, as the Belgian beat Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin to the line. Vos was able beat Lotte Kopecky and Lisa Brennauer in a bunch sprint.
Team Jumbo-Visma will be looking to continue their strong start to the spring classics season with another tilt at victory for Wout van Aert, ably assisted by his enhanced support unit, including Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte.
Quick-Step AlphaVinyl will bring a number of cards, ready to play in a number of possible outcomes. Fabio Jakobsen will be in attendance should the group stay together for a bunch sprint, with Kasper Asgreen present for long-range attacks and Davide Ballerini capable of springing a surprise in any eventuality.
Trek Segafredo have riders capable of winning under a variety of circumstances, including in-form Mads Pedersen, along with Jasper Stuyven.
Following his memorable victory at Milan-San Remo, Matej Mohoric may fancy another solo attack; so too Movistar’s Alex Aranburu who also looked in great shape at La Primavera.
BORA-Hansgrohe will be hoping Sam Bennett can hang on a little longer this year, following his herculean effort to stick with the punchier riders in the 2021 edition, or that it will come down to a sprint.
Other teams with sprint options include Team BikeExchange, with Dylan Groenewegen, and UAE Team Emirates with Pascal Ackermann, who was victorious at the Bredene Koksijde Classic last week. The Emirati team also bring Matteo Trentin who claimed a podium spot last year and will look to improve upon that performance. Alpecin-Fenix bring both Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen, two sprinters with slightly different skillsets who could be deployed depending on the circumstances.
Teams looking at longer-range efforts include EF Education Easypost, who will hope to see Michael Valgren come into form a little early than usual, INEOS Grenadiers with Dylan van Baarle or even young powerhouse Magnus Sheffield, and Groupama-FDJ with Stefan Kung.Women’s race
For the women, last year’s winner Marianne Vos returns to try her luck in only her second race of the season. She is supported by a strong team which includes promising young Brit Anna Henderson and Coryn Labecki.
Team SD Worx will be strong favourites with Lotte Kopecky. The Strade Bianche winner came second in 2021 and is particularly strong on the cobbles.
Lorena Wiebes is one of the most exciting pure sprinters in the women’s peloton right now and if the bunch stays together she will hope to improve on her previous best performance at the race: a second place in 2019. She has proven she can handle difficult finishes, but it will be down to her team to ensure she makes it over the Kemmelberg to remain in contention.
One of the other strongest sprinters out there right now is Trek Segafredo’s World Champion, Elisa Balsamo. She isn’t known for her climbing abilities however her team were imperious at Trofeo Alfredo Binda last week, enabling her to hang on over the climbs and deliver an exceptional victory.
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope have a number of options depending on how the race unfolds, including Grace Brown, Marta Cavalli and Clara Consonni, but will need to be well-organised to bring about a win.
Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard will favour a hard race rather than allowing it to go to a sprint, so too Canyon//SRAM, who may look to Kasia Niewiadoma to attack from distance, although they also have Alice Barnes on hand should it come down to a sprint.
UAE Team ADQ’s Marta Bastianelli, Uno-X’s Susanne Andersen and Le Col Wahoo’s Marjolein van ‘t Geloof are all sprinters who could be in with an outside chance.
With the weather forecast currently looking relatively calm by Belgian standards, the chances of the bunch splitting will rely on the strongest teams launching early attacks.
For the men, a reduced bunch sprint is still the more likely outcome, with the punchier sprinters able to make the final selection. Following a brave effort at the race last year, and with a point to prove to his former team, we think Sam Bennett will be strong enough to hang on and win the sprint for the men.
In the women’s race, a bunch sprint is probably on the cards once again. Vos was dominant in 2021, but with confidence on her side and a fearsome squad to bring her to the finish, we are backing Elisa Balsamo to overcome the challenge of the Kemmelberg and claim victory.