Road

Gent-Wevelgem kicks off the October cobbles season

Two-time champ Kirsten Wild will join other favorites Lorena Wiebes, Jolien D'Hoore, and Marta Bastianelli at the seventh Women's WorldTour race since events resumed this summer.

There are six races left on the Women’s WorldTour calendar, and four of them are cobbled classics.

On Sunday, the elite women’s Gent-Wevelgem kicks off two weeks of autumnal racing through the storied landscapes of springtime. While the wet and chilly weather forecast looks to be on point for the third of the Flanders Classics races to be held in 2020, the only other certainty is a morning of exciting racing for the sprinters and classics riders of the women’s peloton.

With so many riders to watch in this year’s edition, here are some of the questions we’re asking: Where has Lorena Wiebes been, and will she be back to racing at Gent-Wevelgem? Can Kirsten Wild win a third time? After a few quiet weeks, isn’t Marianne Vos due for a victory? And, will we see an American on the podium on Sunday?

American and Canadian viewers can catch the action online, at flobikes.com.

The course

The race opens under the Menin Gate in historic Ypres, Belgium before heading into the flat fields of the Flanders region. The first 50 kilometers could be quiet as riders organize themselves for the ensuing roller coaster of short, steep climbs to follow.

The Scherpenberg and Vidaigneberg are the first two climbs on the route; however, the focus is on the succession of three sharp climbs, Baneberg, Kemmelberg, and the Monteberg, that the peloton tackles twice.

The Baneberg/Kemmelberg/Monteberg combo spans 11 kilometers. The first climb is short and sharp, followed by the three-kilometer long Kemmelberg, which peaks at 17 percent grade. The final ascent of the trio, Monteberg, measures 1.3 km and has slopes of 7.1 percent.

After the first edition of the climbs, the peloton descends to a relatively flat approach to the ‘plugstreets.’ Here, two dirt sectors follow in rapid succession – the first one is slightly uphill and the second one runs through a forest. After the last plugstreet there are about 55 kilometers left to race; this includes the return of the Baneberg/Kemmelberg/Monteberg combo.

After about 100 kilometers, the trio of climbs reappears. Then, at the top of Monteberg, it’s 34 flat kilometers on wide and open roads to the finish.

Although a small bunch sprint is likely inevitable, anything can happen in a cobbled classic. Positioning is always key in Flanders where even the strongest riders can lose their place in the cobbled sections if they’re not focused going into them.

Riders to watch

Defending champion Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) will be back this year to see if she can capture a third win in Wevelgem. The 37-year old Dutch rider is the only woman with repeat victories at the Belgian classic. Last year, she out-sprinted countrywoman Lorena Wiebes in a very tight race.

Although Wiebes has been noticeably absent from the peloton since racing resumed in late July, she joins a stellar Sunweb lineup on Sunday. If her lack of racing this year prevents her from the podium, there are at least three other Sunweb riders who could find their way to the steps.

On Wednesday, Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij finished second and third at Brabantse Pijl Dames after a valiant attempt to catch Grace Brown before she crossed the line. On Sunday, they’ll be joined by decorated American sprinter Coryn Rivera, in addition to Wiebes, Canadian Alison Jackson, and German Franzi Koch. Expect a show from the German squad.

Another rider to keep an eye on is Belgian road champion Lotte Kopecky.

After a fourth-place finish at Brabantse Pijl Dames on Wednesday, Kopecky will likely return to the start line on Sunday with unfinished business on her mind. The 24-year old Lotto Soudal rider has had an excellent 2020 season, with three podium finishes in the Giro Rosa, including one stage win.

Dutch squad Boels Dolmans also brings a contender to the race with Belgian Jolien D’Hoore. D’Hoore had second-place finishes at Gent-Wevelgem in 2017 and 2018, and has been resting her legs since the Belgian national championship road race in late September. She’ll be backed by the ever-impressive Dutch squad who took in a few extra recovery days by skipping Brabantse Pijl Dames.

Other riders to watch include classics expert Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana), Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), Chloe Hosking (Rally Cycling), and Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv).

In attendance at the Flanders Classic race will be the eight women’s WorldTeams in addition to 16 UCI pro continental teams, including Equipe Paule Ka, Boels Dolmans, American outfits Rally Cycling and Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank and Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling.