It’s déjà vu for the women’s peloton as it returns to Belgium for the 2021 Gent-Wevelgem, less than a half year after the 2020 edition.
This year, the cobbled classic celebrates 10 years on the women’s calendar, and it’s the fourth Women’s WorldTour race of this season. While all eyes will be on last year’s winner Jolien d’Hoore and her stacked SD Worx squad, it’s becoming clear that for the women’s peloton in 2021, predicting the podium isn’t as simple as it seems.
From the European VeloNews offices, Andrew Hood’s dark horse pick for Gent-Wevelgem is Trek-Segafredo’s Ellen van Dijk, and Jim Cotton says Vos. After Grace Brown surprisingly outsprinted the sprinters at Thursday’s Oxyclean Classic Brugge – DePanne, choosing a less obvious candidate for Sunday might be the way to go.
While the last four editions of Gent-Wevelgem have finished in a bunch sprint, in 2016, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak soloed to victory. The race begins relatively flat, but the sharp and steep bergs begin around 60 kilometers. Then, 20 kilometers later, the peloton encounters the first of the ‘Plugstreets,’ a series of three semi-paved sectors that could splinter the peloton in myriad ways. The final climb is the second ascent of the 14-percent Kemmelberg, which will burn after over 100 km of racing. Attacks could happen here, yet the race isn’t over until the long, flat run into Wevelgem.
Here’s what a few of the pros have to say:
Where can the race be won?
Marlen Reusser (Alé BTC Ljubljana): For a long part of the race you can just lose and not yet win. Then, for sure on the last cobbled climb the decisive part of the race goes off.
Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo): I think Gent-Wevelgem is normally pretty hard from the halfway point onwards. The climbs are all short but really hard and back-to-back, there’s not a lot of recovery, so it gets pretty hard there. In the past it’s been a break and it’s been a sprint. There’s supposed to be a lot of wind Sunday for us, so I think it will probably get split up, and then we’ll have to see what happens.
Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange): I think the race can begin to split during the cobbled sectors and split again over the Kemmelberg. The finish of the race is always dependent on the wind. It’s a long straight final and the wind will determine whether it’s a small bunch or a solo effort to the line.
Barbara Guarischi (Team Movistar): The passage of the Kemmelberg is for sure the first key point. We have a few key points. Also, about the wind in the final — we have a long stretch and if we have a crosswind, this can also be a key point. There are many points at which the race can be won.
Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana): This race is special like all the races in Belgium, you have to run in front because every point can be strategic to define the final. The race starts about after 100km when you face the main tears but sometimes also in the last kilometers where a fan can split the group for the finish.
— GentWevelgem (@GentWevelgem) March 22, 2021
Is this race a favorite?
Winder: I like this race. It’s normally pretty hard, has a good mix of climbs and cobbles and some wind normally, so it’s a pretty good race. I like a hard race.
Reusser: I did it one time only. Before Kemmelberg, I was thrown out into the dirt and missed the first group. A lot of this race is about riding smart. I improve a bit every race and like races that give much possibilities to learn, like Gent!
Guarischi: Yes. I like it a lot. I actually love every race in Belgium.
Bastianelli: I definitely love this race and after my victory in 2018, I definitely love it even more.
Roy: I really like this race because it’s got a bit of everything with the wind, cobbles, short climbs, and an unpredictable finish.
This is WWT race #4, how do you feel the overall health of the peloton is right now?
Guarischi: This year I can feel that the form of the peloton is super high. We do every race like a world championship. It is a special year for sure. We are really growing year by year.
Winder: I feel like the peloton is super strong as always. Every team has a lot of really strong players, so the racing is really dynamic and hard typically.
Reusser: As I am quite new in this sport and level, it’s difficult for me to judge. Generally I think in 2021 we have a very strong bunch. Maybe the strongest ever?
Bastianelli: I am at a point still not completely at 100 percent for my condition, but I am calm because I believe I will acquire it later.