GHENT-WEVELGEM IN FLANDERS FIELDS Who will take the 2020 edition? • All images by Chris Auld

Sunday, March 29, 2020
[MEN] Start: Ieper/Ypres. Finish: Wevelgem. Distance: 254.7 km.
[WOMEN] Start: Ieper/Ypres. Finish: Wevelgem. Distance: 144.5 km.

THE HISTORY
Ghent–Wevelgem began its life in 1934 as an amateur race held in the fall. It was dedicated to local cycling hero Gaston Rebry, a Wevelgem native, who that year won the Tour of Flanders and Paris–Roubaix. The race was converted to a professional event in 1945, still in the fall, but two years later was granted a spring date, with Rebry as the race director. Although the start and finish cities remained the same, the race route was regularly changed, sometimes including cobbled climbs used in the Tour of Flanders, and more regularly following a flat route toward the North Sea coast and including climbs near the French border. The race often ended in mass sprints, but cold, wet and windy conditions broke the pack into echelons, and small breakaways were common. Ghent–Wevelgem gained much of its prestige in the 1950s when Belgian icon Briek Schotte scored two solo wins by record margins (2:46 and 2:36). Other notable solo winners were French stars Jacques Anquetil (in 1964) and Bernard Hinault (in 1977, his first major international victory). Memorable sprint wins were taken by Englishman Barry Hoban (over three-time winner Eddy Merckx, in 1974); Italian Mario Cipollini (over a 45-strong pack, in 1993); and Belgian Tom Boonen (his first major classic success, in 2004).

THE COURSE
The cobbled Kemmelberg climb was first used in 1955 and gained in importance as a launch pad for successful breakaways, despite being more than 30 kilometers from the finish. The start was moved out of Ghent to nearby Deinze in 2003, while overnight snow in 2013 forced the organizers to move the start to Gistel, some 50 kilometers away. This year, for the first time, the start is in Ypres (Ieper in Flemish), which has seen the start of the women’s race since its debut in 2012. After an opening two hours on flat roads, the new course heads for the familiar hilly loops in northern France and around the Kemmelberg, along with three sections of gravel roads known as Plugstreets, before the flat run-in to Wevelgem.

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JOHN WILCOCKSON’S PREDICTIONS
The big question is: Can Peter Sagan—with three victories, one second and two third places in the past eight years—become the first four-time winner? Trying to stop him will likely be former winners John Degenkolb, Greg Van Avermaet and Alexander Kristoff—while Wout Van Aert is a threat.

2019 MEN’S TOP 10
1. Alexander Kristoff
2. John Degenkolb
3. Oliver Naesen
4. Mathieu Van Der Poel
5. Danny Van Poppel
6. Adrian Petit
7. Matteo Trentin
8. Rüdiger Selig
9. Matej Mohoric
10. Jens Debusschere

2019 WOMEN’S TOP 10
1. Kirsten Wild
2. Lorena Wiebes
3. Letizia Paternoster
4. Marta Bastianelli
5. Amy Pieters
6. Lotte Kopecky
7. Michela Balducci
8. Elena Cecchini
9. Elisa Balsamo
10. Marta Cavalli

Words: John Wilcockson.