CW reporter Lionel Birnie will be Twittering from the Columbia-Highroad car – go to www.twitter.com/cyclingweekly

Defending champion Oscar Freire is not riding Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, as he is still recovering from his crash at the Tour of California.

Another former winner, Thor Hushovd of the Cervelo team, is a doubt for the race after crashing and injuring his hand during the sprint for third place at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

So, if Mark Cavendish was not already the hot favourite, the absence of two sprinters means the Columbia rider will be expected to win the sprint in Wevelgem if the bunch remains together.

Two climbs of the Kemmelberg and the Monteberg are generally not enough to see a group get away, so if anyone is to escape the clutches of the bunch, they’ll have to hope the wind picks up and is blowing in their favour.

CW’S TOP 10 PREDICTION
1 Mark Cavendish
Columbia
Won Milan-San Remo. Was in the front group at Ghent-Wevelgem last year but got boxed in and finished 17th. Will be very difficult to beat if it comes to a sprint

2 Heinrich Haussler
Cervelo
Will it be another second-place finish for Haussler? He’ll be Cervelo’s main man if Hushovd’s injuries prevent him from starting. Question is whether he’ll have the legs. It may only be a few days on from Flanders, but Haussler has been on great form since Het Nieuwsblad, and it’s a long time to hold it.

3 Filippo Pozzato
Katusha
The Italian is clearly in super form. He made the climbs look far too easy on Sunday, and if he had not been so preoccupied with trying to get in Tom Boonen’s back pocket, he could have won the race. Ghent-Wevelgem is a completely different type of race, but Pozzato can certainly sprint. Everything being equal he’s not going to beat Cavendish, but he’s a serious threat if he chooses to go for it.

4 Tom Boonen
Quick Step
It’s actually more likely that Boonen will save himself for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix than go for victory here. Besides, he seems to have stopped contesting sprint finishes if Mr Cavendish is there too, but perhaps he’ll go for it here, because a result would do him the world of good.

5 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil
Caisse d’Epargne
The Spaniard has been in the top ten each of the last two years, and if the current fine weather holds, the conditions will suit him perfectly. Will be there or thereabouts in the sprint.

6 Matti Breschel
Saxo Bank
Had an excellent sixth-place finish on Sunday. Was the bronze medallist at the World Championships in Varese last year. Clearly on form, and will be one of Saxo Bank’s protected riders.

7 Graeme Brown
Rabobank
The combative Aussie sprinter will be the best chance of a Rabobank win in the absence of Freire. Rabobank have riders they can put on the attack, and they may choose to do that. Brown’s win at Nokere Koerse was good, but this is another level.

8 Wouter Weylandt
Quick Step
If everyone marks Boonen, then Weylandt will be Quick Step’s free rider. Last year he got on the podium. Will be lucky to repeat that, but he’s had some good results in Belgium this spring.

9 Aurelien Clerc
AG2R
Runner-up last year, the Swiss sprinter is always a dangerous outsider if it comes down to a rush for the line. If it’s a sprint, he’ll be around the top ten, for sure.

10 Robbie McEwen
Katusha
Two second places behind Mark Cavendish in the Three days of De Panne last week proved that the Aussie sprinter isn’t finished just yet. His experience will help him in what can be a chaotic finish without leadout trains.

NB: Gert Steegmans (Katusha) will now not start.
NB: Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) will not now ride, due to injury.

RELATED LINKS
Ghent-Wevelgem 2009: The Big Preview
Cycling Weekly’s Rider Profiles

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