Gent-Wevelgem route gets dirty with ‘green roads’

Gent-Wevelgem organizers add new sectors of dirt farm roads to the 2017 course, a tribute to World War I heritage.

The spring classics can’t come soon enough, and to make things interesting for 2017, organizers are spicing up the Gent-Wevelgem course with a new twist for next year’s edition.

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In part to pay homage to nearby World War I battlegrounds, the peloton will face three sectors totaling 5.2km of unpaved farm roads in between the two passages over the emblematic Kemmelberg climb on “green roads” called “plugstreets.” The new sectors, which could be treacherous if rain turns conditions muddy, come with about 60km to go to the finish line.

“Integrating this strip between the two Kemmel climbs will provide additional nervousness,” said race director Hans de Clercq. “There will be less opportunity to recover. The [race] won’t be won here, but the chaff will be further separated from the wheat.”

The three sectors will be around Ploegsteert, and will go over what are called “green streets,” treated dirt roads that better drain water and air off the surface, ideal for the muddy and wet farming conditions of western Belgium.

The roads will present another technical challenge to racers taking on Gent-Wevelgem, which has steadily been made more difficult by organizers during the past decade.

“I don’t think guys will get away there, but when you get off the ‘plugstreets,’ there will be wind and you might get some splits in the peloton,” said Lotto – Soudal Jens Debusschere, among a few pro riders who rode the new sections. “I don’t see a group getting away, but you will have to be at the front.”

Organizers are also incorporating the new roads to pay homage to World War I battlefields, specifically the Christmas Truce of 1914. It’s near the second sector, called “Plugstreet 2,” also called Mud Lane during World War I, where forces on both sides of the trenches celebrated an impromptu Christmas ceasefire. German and allied forces put down their weapons, sang Christmas carols, and eventually crawled out of the trenches, shaking hands with their enemies, swapped cigarettes and drinks, and even played a pick-up game of soccer between the two enemies. The route changes will take the race near World War I memorials and cemeteries, where 600,000 British soldiers are buried.