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Remember when Sagan wheelied over the finish line last year? That was neat. Will the 76th edition provide the same drama this Sunday and, err, bike handling trickery? Probably not, but it will certainly be enthralling. It always is, it seems. Most of the time it’s wet and windy, but judging from weather predictions this one could be cloudy and mild, maybe even in the 70s (F)! Weather shifts drastically in Belgium so while it may say 70 degrees (F) it could easily change overnight or even within a few hours. We’ll see. No matter, the course is always tough with plenty of ‘bergs to go around. With his win at E3 Harelbeke, Sagan is definitely favored.
All images: Yuzuru Sunada
The Belgian’s dominate this race. Look over the winners list and in all, they’ve won it 48 times. There’s no other country even close to that. Italy is second with just six victories. Tom Boonen tops the list with most wins at three (2004, 2011, 2012). He’s joined by Eddy Merckx (1967, 1970, 1973), Rik Van Looy (1956, 1957, 1962), Robert Van Eenaeme (1936, 1937, 1945), and Mario Cipollini (1992, 1993, 2002). Van Eenaeme very well could be the outright holder of most wins had World War II not interrupted the race. It was not run from 1940-1944.
There was a point from its inception in 1934 until 1953 when only Belgians took victory. The streak was broken by Swiss rider Rolf Graf in 1954. The Belgians got back on track to win the next nine editions (1955-1963) until Jacques Anquetil took victory in 1964. It was his only Gent-Wevelgem victory. The Belgians went on a tear again winning the next nine (1965-1973), but the streak was broken by Brit, Barry Hoban in 1974. If you look at the top five for that year, it’s an impressive feat as he beat Merckx (2nd), Roger De Vlaeminck (3rd), Freddy Maertens (6th), Walter Planckaert (7th), and Walter Godefroot (8th) to the line. From 1975 until last year, the Belgians didn’t dominate like usual, though they took 15 of 39. The other 24 editions were won by the likes of Bernard Hinault (1977), Francesco Moser (1979), Sean Kelly (1988), Thor Hushovd (2006) and Oscar Freire (2008), to name a few.
In 2012 Tom Boonen won a sprint finish with Peter Sagan finishing second.
In 2013, Sagan broke with about 2.5 miles to go and won by 23 seconds.