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WWT Preview: Cobble-bashing at Gent-Wevelgem

The fourth race in the Women’s WorldTour series this year could present a different winner than the first three.

Round four of Women’s WorldTour racing hits this Sunday with the typically wild and windy conditions of Gent-Wevelgem. Elisa Longo-Borghini remains in the WWT leader’s jersey after two solid top-10 finishes at Ronde van Drenthe and Trofeo Alfredo Binda following her win at Strade Bianche. Boels-Dolmans also keeps its lead in the team competition with a solid 52-point lead over Team Sunweb.

With Ronde van Vlaanderen — the pinnacle of the women’s cobbles season — coming up next week, Gent-Wevelgem is sure to produce an exciting preview of the upcoming monument. Wevelgem provides a good indication of how Flanders favorites are feeling, who is peaking, and who has their work cut out for them in the next week.

Race coverage

No live videos or race coverage is planned for the women’s race at Gent-Wevelgem. But you can follow race action online through twitter.

Race twitter handle: @GentWevelgem
Women’s race hashtag: #GWEWomen
UCIWWT twitter hashtag: #UCIWWT

VeloNews will also be on the ground in Belgium providing race updates and pre- and post-race rider reactions via Instagram. Follow along @VeloNews.

The course

Known for treacherous weather conditions — check out Geraint Thomas getting blown off his bike in 2015 — this year looks to be somewhat mellow, with partly cloudy skies and moderate winds ranging from 6-24 mph forecasted.

Thanks to the new UCI rule that increases women’s allowable race distances, the peloton will cover over 150 kilometers, a significant increase from last year’s 115km course. Riders will still tackle the three peloton-splitting climbs (some multiple times) for a total of five opportunities to split the field.

The climbs:

Kemmelberg (round 1)
After 70km of flat and rolling terrain, the peloton reaches the first major challenge of the day with the steep slopes of the Kemmelberg.

Distance: 3km
Average grade: 4%
Max grade: 22%

Monteberg (round 1)
Immediately after cresting and descending the Kemmelberg, riders shoot straight onto the Monteberg. It might be short at just 1km, but it’s steep and comes quickly after the Kemmelberg, leaving little time for recovery or for dropped riders to chase back on.

Distance: 1km
Average grade: 7.3%
Max grade: 10%

Baneberg
Racers get approximately 15km of flatter terrain to recover after the earlier one-two punch of the Kemmelberg and Monteberg. But the peloton is not going to just sit back and spin through this section because the pressure will be high. At the 92km mark, racers take one trip up the short but not-so-sweet Baneberg before returning to the other two climbs for a second go-around.

Average grade: 9%
Mad grade: 13%

Kemmelberg and Monteberg (round 2)
Back to the Kemmelberg and Monteberg, a dwindling main field will make its way up the two climbs from earlier, with even more ferocity. If a worthy break hasn’t gone clear by this point, watch for the main contenders to make their move.

After the fireworks of Gent-Wevelgem’s five climbs, the women’s peloton still has 50km to race on undulating terrain. Assuming a small group gets away on the last round of climbing, there’s still plenty of time for the peloton to bring it all back together again — but only if one or two big teams fail to make it into the break. Otherwise, there won’t be enough firepower in the chasing peloton to fight Belgium’s notorious winds to reel in the leaders.

Contenders

Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb)
Gent-Wevelgem gives American Rivera another shot to showcase her finish-line speed. The pint-sized racer can get over the race’s steep climbs with the leaders and is one of the fastest in reduced-field sprints. We’d love to see a head-to-head matchup of Rivera versus Amalie Diederkson (Boels-Dolmans) this weekend.

Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans)
Boels needs another win and it might just come from the unexpected world champion for the second time this year. Watch for some aggressive riding from the team after a disappointing race at Alfredo-Binda. If the team is healthy and recovered from its bad luck last week, the riders will be working hard to reestablish dominance before Flanders. Dideriksen is fierce in a sprint as long as she gets over the climbs with the leaders.

Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM)
The Italian national champ scored three top-10 finishes at the three WWT races so far in 2017, and she could sprint her way to a win this weekend. She’ll need faster sprinters like Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) and Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) to miss the lead group for a chance, though.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott)
Orica also needs a win. Having been one of the most active teams in the peloton this spring, the Aussie squad has yet to score the big win. This may not be the race either, though, as Orica doesn’t have the same small-group sprinting speed as other teams do. Van Vleuten could play a role over the climbs but she’ll need a solo escape at the finish to hold off the sprinters.

Marianne Vos (WM3)
Vos makes her return to team leader this weekend. She hasn’t factored in the winning moves or finish-line sprints yet this year, but she could be peaking perfectly to close out the cobbles season with a bang.

Jolien D’Hoore (Wiggle-High5)
If the lead group starts looking around at each other after the final climb and the main field comes back together, D’Hoore has a shot to take down sprinters like Rivera and Dideriksen.

Will the WWT go four for four with a new team winning each of the first four races of the season?

Check out last year’s race and how Chantal Blaak scored her second WWT of the year and fourth consecutive win for Boels-Dolmans: