By Andrew Hood
Several big-name riders who skipped Tour of Flanders will be the main protagonists Wednesday for Ghent-Wevelgem in the midweek, sprinter-friendly classic.
The 210km route from Deinze to Wevelgem is mostly flat except for two passages over the Kemmelberg at 153km and 174km. The climb almost always splits the bunch and it’s sometimes a close call before the peloton comes back together again before roaring into Wevelgem for the sprint.
Defending champion Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto), Allan Davis (Discovery Channel), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) all skipped the hillier Flanders on Sunday and will have fresh legs.
Another rider that’s sure to capture the attention of the established pros will be JJ Haedo (CSC), who will be racing after scoring a huge victory Monday when he out-kicked Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Petacchi to score his first win on European roads at the Tour of Cologne.
“We just want to see him at the start and finish. This is all new for him, a race like that with some cobblestones, some crosswinds, it will be new for him,” said Team CSC sport director Scott Sunderland. “Ghent is known for a lot of crashes. We just want to get him into the race and maybe get some ProTour points for us.”
Crashes in Sunday’s Flanders forced both Erik Zabel (Milram) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) to forfeit Ghent and Paris-Roubaix.
Tom Boonen, winner in 2004, said he would start despite getting banged up in a crash early in Sunday’s Flanders. Quick Step rider Gert Steegmans will have freedom to attack while compatriots Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux) will be in the mix.
“My wrist and knee are still hurting,” said the 26-year-old. “I feel fit to ride but I’m not looking at how this might evolve over the coming days. I’ll see how I feel during the race.”
Daniele Bennati will try to make it a double for Lampre-Fondital, who scored a big win with Alessandro Ballan on Sunday. Filippo Pozzato and Luca Paolini will be representing the Liquigas colors in what should be an exciting race.
Forecasters are calling for continued mild weather, but there’s the threat of some weather blowing in from the north for the weekend. Just in time for Paris-Roubaix.
Recent winners 1997 Philippe Gaumont (FRA) 1998 Frank Vandenbroucke (BEL) 1999 Tom Steels (BEL) 2000 Geert Van Bondt (BEL) 2001 George Hincapie (USA) 2002 Mario Cipollini (ITA) 2003 Andreas Klier (GER) 2004 Tom Boonen (BEL) 2005 Nico Mattan (BEL) 2006 1. Thor Hushovd (NOR)
2. David Kopp (GER)
3. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA)
4. Filippo Pozzato (ITA)
5. George Hincapie (USA)
Discovery leads ProTour rankings
Discovery Channel bounced into the lead of the ProTour team standings thanks to the strong performances by Vladimir Gusev and Tomas Vaitkus, fifth and sixth respectively, in Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
Spanish rider Alberto Contador – racing this week in the Tour of the Basque Country – retained his individual lead in the ProTour rankings.
“I was very happy to see how well the team performed on Sunday. Going into the race I was hoping for one rider in the top 10, so to have two riders place so high was a great showing for us,” said assistant directeur sportif Dirk Demol in a team statement. “The team is looking great and I expect Vaitkus, Gusev and Devolder to be good for Paris-Roubaix.”
Discovery Channel will look to maintain its top rankings this week as riders compete at the Tour of the Basque Country, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
“I cannot recall a better start to the season since I have been director,” said directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel. “The entire team has performed better than expected and after his win at Paris-Nice, it is nice that Alberto has the chance to ride in the Pro Tour leaders jersey this week.”