"People keep saying I can't climb, but that's Alps and Pyrenees, not the Kemmelberg."
Mark Cavendish, High Road's in-form sprinter, warms to his theme. "It's a power climb and it's perfect for sprinters like me. I can get over the Kemmel. At the Three Days of West Flanders I was first over the top in the bunch. Ghent-Wevelgem isn't won or lost on the Kemmelberg. It's a 200k race. It's not the Kemmel that splits it anyway, it's the 30k before it as everyone fights to be in position.
"If I don't win it won't be because of a lack of climbing ability, it'll be because I wasn't good enough on the day."
The 22-year-old won two stages in the Three Days of De Panne last week, putting to bed another of the myths about him - that he's yet to build the stamina to win long stages.
At 228 kilometres, the stage from Zottegem to Koksijde was the longest professional race he's won. The previous longest was a 199-kilometre leg in last year's ENECO Tour.
"I suppose it is a step up but I've built my endurance over the past year and I know I can be the fastest at the end of any race."
Cavendish hasn't been told he's High Road's leader but it's clear he's the main option if it comes to a sprint.
High Road are actually spoilt for choice and boast, on paper, the strongest team in the race. They have two previous winners of Ghent-Wevelgem - George Hincapie, who won it for US Postal Service in 2001, and Andreas Klier who took it for T-Mobile two years later.
Then there's Roger Hammond, second last year after playing the role of perfect team-mate to Marcus Burghardt, who's missing this time because of injury.
They also have a former Paris-Roubaix winner, Servais Knaven, in the ranks, and that's without considering the sprinters.
Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek and ProTour leader Andre Greipel are all capable of taking on the best sprinters in the race - but Cavendish is the man in form.
After winning two stages in De Panne he headed home to the Isle of Man where he did a long training ride on Saturday and then rode out to take part in a local handicap race on Sunday. "It's more interesting than riding on your own."
On Monday he flew, via Manchester, to Brussels and stayed at Hammond's house to the east of Brussels. Today [Tuesday] he planned to go training with Hammond in the morning before joining up with the team in the afternoon.
Read more about Mark Cavendish in Thursday's Cycling Weekly.
Wednesday, April 9
Route in summary Starts in Deinze, just to the west of Ghent, then heads west on flat roads. The wind is the main obstacle in the first half of the race but this year the route does not quite reach the coast. They then turn south and tackle the Monteberg and Kemmelberg twice each before a 39-kilometre run-in to the finish.
A change on the Kemmelberg
After last year's crashes on the steep, cobbled descent of the Kemmelberg, caused by bouncing bidons, (See video below) the organisers have made a couple of changes to the route. Firstly, a 2.5km section of cobbles has been inserted shortly before the Kemmel, in the hope that it stretches out the peloton a bit.
Then, at the top, instead of turning right and taking the cobbled road, the race goes down a narrow, asphalt-covered track.
Mark Cavendish and Roger Hammond (High Road)
Jeremy Hunt (Credit Agricole)
Ian Stannard (Landbouwkrediet)
British Eurosport 13.30 - 15.30 Live
|CAN THE SPRINTERS DO IT?|
Cipollini's win in 2002 came from a small group. And recent history shows that the breakaways have a good chance of succeeding.
High Road won't be the only team interested in pulling it back together in the final 45 minutes of racing that follows the second climb of the Kemmelberg. There are a host of other fine sprinters in the race.
If Ghent-Wevelgem ends in a sprint, it won't be a 60-up gallop for the line, it'll be a smaller selection, anything up to 30.
And that changes the complexion of the sprint, tipping the odds in favour of those who have a fast finish but who do not usually mix it in bunch sprints in stage races, for example. This is a Classic, after all.
Those who have finished in the top 10 at Ghent-Wevelgem before have their best finish listed. The others have shown form of late - like Chavanel and Cavendish.
A LIST SPRINTERS
The sprinters with the best chance of success in Wevelgem
Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) - 1st in 2006
Filippo Pozatto (Liquigas) - 4th in 2006
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) - 1st in 2004
Gert Steegmans (Quick Step)
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) - 3rd in 2006
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) - 3rd in 2007
Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) - 6th in 2007
Mark Cavendish (High Road)
Sebastien Chavanel (Francaise des Jeux)
B LIST SPRINTERS
Those on the next rung down who will fancy their chances if it's a sprint finish
Alexandre Usov (Ag2r) - 10th in 2007
Aurelien Clerc (Bouygues Telecom)
Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse d'Epargne) - 9th in 2007
Jeremy Hunt (Credit Agricole)
Graeme Brown (Rabobank)
Juan Jose Haedo (CSC)
Danilo Napolitano (Lampre)
Erik Zabel (Milram) - 6th in 1998
Baden Cooke (Barloworld) - 6th in 2005
Robert Hunter (Barloworld) - 6th in 2002
Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld)
|RECENT YEARS: SPRINT OR BREAK?|
BREAK Burghardt's, team-mate Roger Hammond, Christophe Mengin and Florent Brard are in a long break that is later joined by the eventual winner plus Oscar Freire and Francisco Ventoso. They fought out the finish.
2006 Thor Hushovd (Norway) Credit Agricole
SPRINT Milram chase down Bert Roesems in the streets of Wevelgem. Filippo Pozzato goes for it but fades in the headwind and Hushovd wins a 30-man sprint
2005 Nico Mattan (Belgium) Davitamon-Lotto
BREAK An aggressive final hour sees Juan Antonio Flecha try to shake off the rest of the lead group, which he does with three kilometres to go. Mattan gives chase and, partly aided by the motorbikes and a Shimano neutral service car, which are too close, catches and passes the Spaniard with 300 metres to go.
2004 Tom Boonen (Belgium) Quick Step
SPRINT Quick Step control the race for the final 30 kilometres, after rescuing Boonen when he punctured. They set such a pace no one can get away and the finish is a formality.
2003 Andreas Klier (Germany) T-Mobile
SMALL SPRINT Klier and four others break free of a 12-man group and fight out the finish among themselves. Klier beats Henk Vogels and Tom Boonen. Alberto Ongarato and Servais Knaven got burned off in the last kilometre.
2002 Mario Cipollini (Italy) Acqua & Sapone
SMALL SPRINT George Hincapie, Fred Rodriguez and Hendrik Van Dyck must have groaned when they saw Cipo come across the gap after the second climb of the Kemmelberg.
2001 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service
BREAK The race-winning move went before the first climb of the Kemmelberg and it whittled down over and again as the finish approached.
2000 Gert Van Bondt (Belgium) Farm Frites
BREAK Van Bondt attacks from an eight-man group to win, while his team-mate Peter Van Petegem plays policeman behind.
1999Tom Steels (Belgium) Mapei
SPRINT Steels gets an armchair ride from team-mates Johan Museeuw and Wilfried Peeters and wins the 15-up sprint.
1998 Frank Vandenbroucke (Belgium) Mapei
BREAK VDB wins with a strong attack.
|WATCH WEVELGEM ON THE WEB...|
2003 World champion Mario Cipollini misses the break, gets in a strop and takes it out on a commissaire by hurling a water bottle at him.
2005 Tom Boonen hits the wall of finish line photographers.
2006 How Hushovd won.
2007 WARNING: Not for the faint hearted. Jimmy Casper crashes hard on the descent of the Kemmelberg.
|BRITS AT WEVELGEM|
Mark Cavendish will be one of the favourites for Ghent-Wevelgem next Wednesday. Of all the spring Classics, it's the one where British riders have had the most success. Barry Hoban is the only winner, in 1974, but Tom Simpson, Sean Yates and Roger Hammond have all been runners-up.
Hammond is another man to watch – particularly if the race does not culminate in a sprint. He's also in good form, played the role of perfect team-mate to last year's winner Marcus Burghardt, and has finished in the top ten three times.
Barry Hoban (1974)
Read how Cycling covered Hoban's Wevelgem win here.
Tom Simpson (1963)
Sean Yates (1989)
Roger Hammond (2007)
Roger Hammond (2003)
Roger Hammond (2000)
Joey McLoughlin (1987)
Barry Hoban (1969)
John Herety (1982)
Barry Hoban (1973)
|BRITS IN SPRING|
Milan-San Remo - 1964 Tom Simpson
Tour of Flanders - 1961 Tom Simpson
Ghent-Wevelgem - 1974 Barry Hoban
Paris-Roubaix - no British winner. (Hoban third in 1972, Hammond third in 2004)
Amstel Gold - no British winner. (Malcolm Elliott third in 1987)
Flèche Wallonne - no British winner. (Tom Simpson third in 1965)
Liège-Bastogne-Liège - no British winner. (Robert Millar third in 1988)
Official Ghent-Wevelgem site
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Ghent-Wevelgem 2008 in pictures
Race report: Freire wins Ghent-Wevelgem
Cavendish disappointed after chaotic Ghent-Wevelgem finale
Will 'safer' descent cut down crashes?
Cycling Weekly Classic from the archive: How Barry Hoban won 1974 Ghent-Wevelgem