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Gent-Wevelgem women: Five things we learned from the one-day race

From Elisa Balsamo's potentially Tour of Flanders-winning form to Trek-Segafredo versus SD Worx, these are some of the key takeaways from Sunday's race.

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) looks unstoppable at the moment after riding to her third straight victory this month.

The Italian world champion beat Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) in a thrilling contest at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

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Many of the big-name classic stars were in attendance at the one-day race, which was one of the longest they’ll race all year, and it provided some clues as to what’s to come as the classics rumble on toward April.

With that in mind, these are five things we learned from Gent-Wevelgem women.

Elisa Balsamo is in pole position to win Tour of Flanders

Elisa Balsamo was reluctant to discuss the Tour of Flanders in her post-victory press conference at Gent-Wevelgem, but her recent run of form certainly puts her forward as a serious contender for this Sunday.

Balsamo kicked off her purple patch on home soil, surviving an aggressive Trofeo Alfredo Binda to claim her first WorldTour victory of the year. That continued into Belgium with her impressive defeat of Lorena Wiebes at the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne, before beating Marianne Vos at Gent-Wevelgem.

The Tour of Flanders on Sunday will provide some new challenges, not least the defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten. It’s unlikely that Balsamo will be able to keep up with van Vleuten on climbs like the Paterberg but if Trek-Segafredo can unite behind her then there’s every chance it can shut down the inevitable van Vleuten attacks.

SD Worx vs. Trek-Segafredo: Two different approaches

There is no doubt that SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo are collectively the two strongest teams in the peloton at the moment, but the rival squads approach racing with very different tactics. Those opposing approaches were clear to see in the finale of Gent-Wevelgem.

SD Worx is known as a team of champions where any rider on any given day can take the win and the team often starts with multiple options. The team appeared to take that approach with Lotte Kopecky sitting in the bunch waiting for the possible sprint, while the likes of Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Lonneke Uneken, and Elena Cecchini took turns to attack off the front in an effort to cover both bases.

Meanwhile, Trek-Segafredo chose to back its sprint option of Elisa Balsamo wholeheartedly. The team did get a rider in one of the more dangerous breaks through Ellen van Dijk, but the European champion dropped back from that group in order to bring the bunch back. It was a high-risk approach, but it worked well.

For now, Trek’s all-in approach is proving the most successful with seven wins in the bank compared to SD Worx’s three. However, the season is long, and things could change.

Longer women’s races can be exciting, but not too long

The 2022 edition of Gent-Wevelgem saw the longest women’s race ever at 159k, the same distance as this week’s Tour of Flanders. Outside of the Tour de France Femmes 175-kilometer stage, that distance makes it the equal longest single day of racing on the women’s calendar.

The race did take a little bit of time to get going but the lull in the action did not last long and the ride through De Moeren set the tone for the rest of the day. While the race ultimately ended in a bunch sprint, it was not a certainty with repeated attacks all the way to the line.

As women’s cycling continues to develop, there has been plenty of debate about the length of road races and how much is too much. One of the aspects of women’s cycling that has drawn many fans is the aggressive racing that is seen in most events, and it is a feature that riders would like to keep as the sport is grown further. Race length is seen as a key factor in this with shorter events meaning that riders can go aggressive far earlier than their male counterparts.

However, there is also a push to give women longer races, which they are very much capable for. There is then a fine balance to be had with how long a race can be before it starts detracting from the racing itself.

A bad day for Lorena Wiebes

Lorena Wiebes came into Gent-Wevelgem with high confidence and expectations. Like Balsamo, she had enjoyed a strong run of form coming into the classics with dominant wins at the GP Oetingen, Nokere Koerse, and the Ronde van Drenthe.

It was Balsamo that broke her run of wins at Brugge-De Panne, though Wiebes had sprinted to second with a broken spoke and she still looked in flying form for Sunday. Wiebes had previously finished second at Gent-Wevelgem, back in her breakthrough 2019 season, and she wanted to go one better this year.

However, in a hugely aggressive day out, Wiebes found herself involved a crash before getting dropped over the climbing section of the parcours. She eventually abandoned the race along with teammate Megan Jastrab. It was a rare bad day for Wiebes, and she will want to regain her “queen of the sprints” crown soon enough.

We’re in for a corker of a Tour of Flanders

If taste of cobbles that Gent-Wevelgem gave us was anything to go by, we’re in for a great Tour of Flanders this weekend.

While we will see a change in the complexion of some teams as they switch from sprint focus to the more hellingen-heavy Flanders route, the approach is likely to remain somewhat similar — attacking.

Gent-Wevelgem saw multiple teams unafraid to take the race on with a relentless final 30 kilometers seeing attack after attack. With Balsamo in such imperious form, we may well see something similar as everyone tries to shed her from the front group. There is also the inclusion of van Vleuten in the line-up, who will want to reverse her fortunes after finishing second in Strade Bianche earlier this month.

It’s going to be a great race. Bring it on.

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