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WAREGEM, Belgium (VN) — Race organizers cut 47km from the 238km Ghent-Wevelgem due to brutal cold and wind that has settled over Belgium and taken its toll on a weather-weary peloton. The decision was announced in Waregem on Friday evening.
“We all know that in these weather conditions, a race from 190km is the same as the race of 240,” race president Luc Gheysens told VeloNews. “We would like a race with respect to the riders, who already had a horrible Sanremo, a tough Waregem, and a very tough Harelbeke.”
It is the first time Gheysens has made a route change due to external factors in his 30 years as the race president, and it wasn’t done lightly. The race will keep its start in Deinze but only as a matter of show: Riders will dress and sign in, but then board team buses for a 47km ride to Gistel, which allows the race to maintain its anticipated arrival times and stay on schedule.
As of Friday night, snow had fallen but not enough to keep the race off its scheduled climbs, or from dipping into France. French and Belgian authorities planned to salt the roads and have heavy equipment on standby for snow removal. Gent-Wevelgem officials were not asked, nor required, to shorten the distance.
Last week, the peloton endured brutally cold, wet and snow conditions at Milano-Sanremo, and again Friday at Harelbeke, with temperatures in the 30s and cold winds throughout the day.
On Sunday in Belgium, the anticipated high is 36 degrees, with a 50 percent chance of snow. The real icing may come due to cold, wet winds anticipated to blast all day Sunday.
“We have WorldTour status,” Gheysens said. “And when you have that you have to be honest with every shareholder [including the riders], and not only look to television or VIP entities.”
Allan Peiper, BMC’s performance director, said the decision was welcomed.
“I think it was a good move from the organization to show something towards the riders. They’ve been through a bit in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Gheysens said the race has not had to alter initial route plans since 1952, when it was postponed.
“It wasn’t possible to ride the race, and we postponed it for a week. But nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to postpone one day. It’s too complicated, the organization is too big,” he said.
The race has more than 6,000 meals prepared for its VIPs as part of the 75th Gent-Wevelgem, an illustration of the pressure these Belgian races are under to offer not only a strong parcours and field, but to turn profits. Organizers took care to keep the route and arrival times by the VIP areas unaffected, at least at this point.
“For us, it was a tough but a good decision. It’s the 75th Gent-Wevelgem … it’s a big celebration tomorrow,” said Lieven Gheysens, son of the race president and part of the director’s committee.