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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 usually following a flat route along the North Sea coast before visiting climbs near the French border. The race often ended in mass sprints, but cold, wet and windy conditions would break the pack into echelons, and small breakaways were common. 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 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, and last year, for the first time, the start was 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 near the French border, with three trips up the Kemmelberg (for a total of 11 climbs) and three sections of gravel roads known as Plugstreets. The women climb the Kemmelberg twice in their 144-kilometer event.
Sunday, March 28, 2021.
JOHN WILCOCKSON’S PREDICTIONS
Last October, race favorites Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel marked each other so closely in the nine-man breakaway group that the sprint finish was fought between the other seven. They are unlikely to make the same mistake, so look for one of the big duo to win. Twice a podium finisher, Germany’s Lisa Brennauer is due for a victory among the women.
RECENT MEN’S PODIUMS
2016 1. Peter Sagan (Svk); 2. Sep Vanmarcke (B); 3. V. Kuznetsov (Rus).
2017 1. Greg Van Avermaet (B); 2. Jens Keukeleire (Nl); 3. Sagan.
2018 1. Sagan; 2. Elia Viviani (I); 3. Arnaud Démare (F).
2019 1. Alexander Kristoff (N); 2. John Degenkolb (G); 3. Oliver Naesen (B).
2020 1. Mads Pedersen (Dk); 2. Florian Sénéchal (F); 3. Matteo Trentin (I).
RECENT WOMEN’S PODIUMS
2016 1. Chantal Blaak (Nl); 2. Lisa Brennauer (G); 3. Lucinda Brand (Nl).
2017 1. Lotta Lepistö (Fin); 2. Jolien D’hoore (B); 3. Coryn Rivera (USA).
2018 1. Marta Bastianelli (I); 2. D’hoore; 3. Lisa Klein (G).
2019 1. Kirsten Wild (Nl); 2. Lorena Wiebes (Nl); 3. Letizia Paternoster (I).
2020 1. Jolien D’hoore; 2. Lotte Kopecky (B); 3. Lisa Brennauer (G).