This is a reprint of the article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.
Sunday is the day for Gent-Wevelgem, a prestigious cobbled classic race which takes place in the lead up to the King of Belgian Cobbled races, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). This race has grown in stature the past few years, as the organizers sought to make changes to elevate the status and reputation of the race. It was always a respected Belgian cobbled race, but because it was sandwiched right between Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, two huge cycling classics, it often got lost in the shuffle. That changed last year when it got moved to the Sunday before the Ronde, and therefore make for good training in the run up to the Ronde. It’s status was also bolstered by its shift to the UCI WorldTour race calendar, which means all the UCI ProTeams are obligated to attend.
The race was first run in 1934, created as a tribute to Gaston Rebry (a Wevelgem native) who had won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix that year. The first edition was a junior race at only 120km; from 1936-1939 it was open to independent amateur riders; and after WWII it became a professional race, with a new route lengthened to 200km. Today, it is organized by the Royal Flying Wheel Velo Club.
Most notably, only one American has ever won this race- George Hincapie in 2001. Belgians have dominated this race, no question, with 46 wins over its history. Italy is way back in 2nd, with only six wins.
Although it is often called a sprinters’ classic, with a flat finish, there are plenty of climbs and cobbles to thin the ranks and challenge the pure sprinters. Because of this, usually only a small elite bunch make it to the finish together.The biggest obstacle in the race is the Kemmelberg, a cobbled climb that is ridden twice, and which has a dangerous descent. The race hasn’t actually started in Gent since 2004- it usually starts in nearby Deinze.
In the quest to elevate the status of the race, the organizers redesigned the route, adding two climbs, bringing the total to 8, making it even less of sprinters race. Despite the changes, it is still the Kemmelberg climb that will shape the results.
E3 to suffer
Because of all these changes, the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke (E3 Prize Flanders), which typically takes place a week and a day before the Ronde, is being passed up for Gent. As a UCI WorldTour race, not only are teams obligated to attend, but points towards UCI rider classification are higher too, prompting many riders and teams to chose Gent-Wevelgem over the E3, which is only part of the UCI Europe Tour. While some claim the E3 race is still a better indicator of how the Ronde will play out, as the route is much similar, that is still not enough to draw riders away from Gent.