Ghent-Wevelgem 2011: The Big Preview
The northern classics season begins in earnest this Sunday (March 27) with the 73rd running of Ghent-Wevelgem, the race affectionately dubbed the "sprinters' classic".
Big changes were made for last year's running, notably to the route and switching the day of the race from a Wednesday to Sunday.
For 2011, it remains in its new weekend position, once again taking place 24 hours after the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen.
Despite the revised course in 2010 - several new climbs, including the Mont des Cats and Mont Noir were added, pushing the distance up to 219km - the race was won by Bernhard Eisel, who out-sprinted five breakaway companions to take the biggest victory of his career.
While there have been few solo successes, the challenging back-end of the race often splits the peloton into many groups, with a select few being in a position to go for the win. Eight climbs feature in a twice-covered circuit in the race's second half: Scherpenberg, Mont des Cats, Berthen, Mont Noir, Beneberg, Rodeberg, Monteberg and the staple climb of the Kemmelberg.
The Kemmelberg remains the centerpiece of the WorldTour race, with the second passing coming at the 184km mark.
It is the 16th hill in the space of just 90km, and the steep, cobbled ascent often proves as important to the race as its tricky descent, before a predominantly flat run-in to the finish in Wevelgem awaits.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2011: Eisel determined despite illness
Bernie Eisel has been suffering from a cold, but is keen to start the race that he described as his "great love" after winning here twelve months ago.
"I was 100 per cent preparing for the Classics, but I've had a very uneven build-up to these races," said Eisel.
"I got sick before the Strade Bianche (March 5), then I got better again in Tirreno-Adriatico (March 9-15), then these last few days I've been
really ill with a cold. I started feeling like I didn't want to go
training, which was strange, because that's when my cold really kicked in.
"I was a bit upset at first because every day when you go training after the previous year's Paris-Roubaix you're thinking and thinking about the Classics and then this happens.
"I'm sure I'll race Ghent-Wevelgem, all I have to do is keep on getting better over the next two days and pray for good weather on Sunday!"
Ghent-Wevelgem 2011: The favourites
Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky): The Spaniard's name should appear in the list of previous winners of the race, but was controversially beaten by Nico Mattan in 2005. He showed in February's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad that his form is good.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto): The Belgian looked strong in Milan-San Remo last week but missed out on the victory - as he did here last year - because he's not the fastest sprinter. If he breaks clear on Sunday, he'll hope his company is similar to that which he had in the Eroica earlier this months - fast, but not super quick.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky): Edvald Boasson Hagen's achilles problems allows Thomas to start on Sunday. Fresh from completing his first Milan-San Remo and a fine second in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, the Welshman is being kept busy. The hills may prove to be too much, but he's clearly on form right now.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC): Fast becoming a one-day specialist, BMC new-boy look strong in Italy last week. He hasn't ridden here since 2008, but has strong placings in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Tour of Flanders on his palmares already.
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step): The ever-agressive Frenchman doesn't have a great record in the race. It suits his attacking, punchy style, and as a result, the Quick Step rider can never be ruled out.
Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Highroad): The surprise victor in 2010, Austrian Eisel will be a marked man this time around. Having played the domestique role for Matt Goss and Mark Cavendish for most of the season thus far, can he make the transition to leader successfully, and defend his win on Sunday?
Goss and Cavendish are both riding on Sunday, giving HTC plenty of options and strength within the team.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step): The Belgian recently told Cycle Sport magazine that he did not like Ghent-Wevelgem, although he admitted so in no uncertain terms. Unfortunately for him, Quick Step are sending him to the race instead of the E3 in a bid to score points for the UCI team rankings. He won here in 2004, but as he dislikes the new route so much, he may spend all day sulking instead of looking to ride strongly.
Robbie McEwen (Radioshack): For all of his speed, McEwen has never finished on the podium in this race - sixth in 2007 was his best result. He may not have the legs to compete with the top sprinters, but he still has the knowledge to ride well.
With no official startlist at the time of writing, exactly who is riding is unknown. However, if Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Carvelo) and Allan Davis (Astana) ride, we'd rate their chances in a bunch sprint.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2011: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Ghent-Wevelgem: Recent winners
2010: Bernhard Eisel
2009: Edvald Boasson-Hagen
2008: Oscar Freire
2007: Marcus Burghardt
2006: Thor Hushovd
2005: Nico Mattan
2004: Tom Boonen
2003: Andreas Klier
2002: Mario Cipollini
2001: George Hincapie
2000: Geert Van Bondt
Ghent-Wevelgem 2010: Results
1. Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Columbia) in 5h16-21
2. Sep Vanmarcke (Topsport Vlaanderen)
3. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
4. George Hincapie (BMC)
5. Daniel Oss (Liquigas) at 2s
6. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at 7s
7. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) at 51s
8. Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) at 1-01
9. Tyler Farrar (Garmin)
10. Luca Paolini (Acqua e Sapone)
Ghent-Wevelgem 2011: TV Coverage
March 27, 17:00-19:00 Ghent-Wevelgem (highlights)
March 28, 18:00-19:00 Ghent-Wevelgem (highlights, BE2)
Ghent-Wevelgem 2011: British riders
Jeremy Hunt (Team Sky)
Ian Stannard (Team Sky)
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)
The top 20 finishes by British riders in Ghent-Wevelgem
Despite British riders having more success here than any other of the spring classics, Barry Hoban remains the sole winner.
Barry Hoban (1974)
Tom Simpson (1963) , Sean Yates (1989), Roger Hammond (2007)
Roger Hammond (2003)
Roger Hammond (2000, 2008), Jeremy Hunt (2009)
Joey McLoughlin (1987)
Barry Hoban (1969), John Herety (1982)
Barry Hoban (1973), Mark Cavendish (2008)