Etixx – Quick-Step to Gent-Wevelgem
Tom Boonen, Fernando Gaviria, Nikolas Maes, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Stijn Vandenbergh will ride the 78th edition of the Flemish race.
First held in 1934, Gent-Wevelgem (243 kilometers) has since become one of the most prized events in the calendar. With ten hills on the course, the key point of the race will once again be Kemmelberg, a 1500-m long steep and cobbled climb, which will be scaled twice, once from the traditional side and once from a side used for the first time in two decades, which has gradients of 23%, thus making it one of the toughest hills in Flanders. As a result, the attackers will have a bigger chance to take the honours, especially if the pace will be a really frantic one. On the other hand, with the final 34 kilometers on flat roads, the riders left behind can make up the lost ground and a regrouping is possible, thus allowing the sprinters to fight for glory.
Etixx – Quick-Step will go into Gent-Wevelgem with a strong and confident team, suited to both a race of attrition and a bunch gallop if it will come down to this. The outfit will be led by Tom Boonen, one of the five men who have won Gent-Wevelgem three times. After his first experience on the cobbles, at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Fernando Gaviria returns to the squad in an event which was first raced by a Colombian rider more than 40 years ago. Also making the team for the last cobbled Classic before the Tour of Flanders will be Nikolas Maes, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Stijn Vandenbergh.
A two-time winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Tom Steels will also be at the race, where he will guide the team from the car. One day before the start, he talked of the new course and what impact it could have on the outcome: "Gent-Wevelgem comes with some changes this year, and the most important one is that in the final we'll venture over another side of the Kemmelberg, which I did only once in my life and it's really steep and tricky, which could prove decisive for some riders. If the race will take place under bad weather conditions, the climb will be even more difficult, as you have to get up in order to go over it. From there to the finish is still a long way, but the crosswinds will make it very hard for the ones left behind."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele