By Karen Lambrecht and podofdonny
Official start time from Deinze 11h30 local time. Arrive in Wevelgem
16h20 local time. 4 climbs starting from Km 141. Major difficulties:
(Km 141 and 164), The Kemmelberg (Km 143 and 166).
The Race and Favourites
Gent-Wevelgem is classified under UCI rankings as a semi-classic. But compared to races later on in the season which have World Cup status it is a race with a far superior history and importance to the riders and fans. The race is always contested mid-week following the Tour of Flanders and is the traditional preparation for the "Enfer du Nord" - Paris-Roubaix, the third round of the World Cup to be raced on Sunday.
The race is often decided in a sprint because of its shorter, flatter parcours and this year's favourite will be last year's winner and a lion looking for his fourth win in the event, Mario Cipollini. Aside from “Super Mario’s” huge talent, his Domina Vacanze-Elitron team seem one of the few to have escaped the ravages of illness and injury which might make the book makers stack the odds a little higher than usual.
Cipollini’s podium companions last year - Fast Freddy Rodriguez and George Hincapie - will not be competing this year, nor will Ronde winner Van Petegem; Robbie McEwen leads a strong, confident Lotto Domo team in his place. Hincapie's absence means that evergreen Ekimov will be the Postal boys' main contender, unless battling “Mad Max” van Heeswijk has recovered fully from his recent bout of illness.
Philippe Gaumont (Cofidis) won the race in 1997, and with the tragedy and ill luck the French team have suffered so far this season, a good performance here would certainly be a morale booster.
How strange that two Spanish riders are genuine contenders for this race. But certainly both Jose Antonio Flecha (iBanesto) and Oscar Freire have the talent to give the race a Spanish victor for the first ever time since Gustave Van Belle (Belgium) won the first edition in 1934.
1998 winner Fanck Vandenbroucke will not start, though Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen might well avenge “Frankie Boy's” second place on Sunday to arch rivals Lotto.
Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2R) has ambitions to win Paris Roubaix and might well see a victory in Wevelgem being a good start to achieve that goal. Telekom are without injured Wesseman but the presence of Hondo and Zabel will encourage them to race hard for their “Ace”.
CSC will be looking to winner in 2000 Geert Van Bondt to kickstart their season, while double winner Tom Steels with support from Ludo Dierckxsens, Lorenzo Bernucci and Ludovic Capelle will be mounting a major challenge for the Landbouwkrediet-Colnago team.
Marlux-Wincor-Nixdorf will be full of confidence after Raivis Belohvosscik's recent performances and if the race is won by hard man sprinters, Bankgiroloterij-Batavus have both Jeroen Blijlevens and Rudi Kemna. Palmans-Collstrop again have Fabien De Waele as team leader although Roger Hammond looks increasingly likely to make the big breakthrough as the season continues.
Fassa, as ever, field a super strong squad and Olaf Pollack as an outside bet for the Gerolsteiner boys. FDJeux.com have Guesdon in super form and Durand to make an early attack to save his legs in the chase that follows; keep an eye open for Bernhard Eisel too.
Navigators have made a deserved breakthrough on the European scene and might well want to do more than make up the numbers - Jeff Louder knows the roads well which is an important factor if the winds start to blow.
Vlaanderen-T-Interim will get a man in the break at the very least, while Flanders-iteamNova.com will keep battling.
It promises to be a race of Belgium resistance, Dutch courage, French zeal and Italian passion.
Then again, Flecha and Freire, might well be dreaming of writing Spanish history on the cobbles of Flanders fields.
20 teams (from 10 riders, but a lot of teams don’t have 10 riders):
Vacanze-Elitron, Fassa Bortolo, US Postal-Berry Floor, Lotto-Domo,
iBanesto.com, Rabobank, CSC, Gerolsteiner, Quick Step-Davitamon, AG2R
Telekom, FDJeux.com, Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, Palmans-Collstrop,
Navigators, Marlux-Wincor, Vlaanderen- T Interim,
8.Santos Gonzalez Capilla
US Postal-Berry Floor
27.Max van Heeswijk
34.Kevin van Impe
36.Stefan Van Dijk
37.Leon van Bon
51.José A. Flecha
52.José V. Garcia Acosta
54.José Lopez Gil
55.Rafael Mateos Perez
56.José I. Gutierrez
57.Ruben Plaza Molina
64.Steven De Jongh
71.Geert Van Bondt
74.Paul Van Hyfte
112.Gian Matteo Fagnini
122.Carloz Da Cruz
136.Wesley Van Speybroek
138.Kurt Van Landegem
139.Bert De Waele
141.Fabien De Waele
143.Hendrik Van Dijck
146.Andy De Smet
157.Vincent van der Kooij
158.Remco van der Ven
159.Jan van Velzen
172.Steven De Neef
184.Wouter Van Mechelen
186.Kevin Van Der Slagmolen
(Thanks to www.cycling4all.com)
1992: Mario Cipollini (Ita)
1993: Mario Cipollini (Ita)
1994: Wilfried Peeters (Bel)
1995: Lars Michaelsen (Den)
1996: Tom Steels (Bel)
1997: Philippe Gaumont (Fra)
1998: Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel)
1999: Tom Steels (Bel)
2000: Geert Van Bondt (Bel)
2001: George Hincapie (USA)
2002: Mario Cipollini (Ita)
Visit also the website: www.gent-wevelgem.be