In an uninterrupted cycling season, Gent-Wevelgem, raced mostly in West Flanders, comes before the Tour of Flanders on the Spring Classics calendar. A course that has as much to offer the sprinters as the all-arounders, it features fewer sections of cobbles and fewer hills than the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but boasts the double ascent of iconic, cobbled Kemmelberg. The weather can be dreadful, with slicing, cold winds thwarting the best efforts of the riders.
Sunday would have been the 87th Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields and the seventh women’s edition. Let’s look back on five exciting races from the Aughts.
2013 Men’s Race: A wheelie good Peter Sagan
We would be remiss to not include Peter Sagan in this list since he won a hat trick of Gent-Wevelgem titles in the Aughts. By his fourth season with Cannondale, the Peter Sagan Show was in full effect, as he had racked up 36 wins and generated plenty of infectious fun along the way. In 2012 he came second to Tom Boonen in Gent-Wevelgem.
In a snow-shortened race Sagan found himself in a small leading group in which he had the only teammate. It was Pole Maciej Bodnar who did the majority of the work to keep the group clear of the peloton. With the field closing in, Sagan simply rode away with 3.5-km remaining, his 23-second gap at the finish plenty of time to pop a celebratory wheelie.
Sagan was much relieved after coming runner up in that year’s Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke. He would go on to win De Brabantse Pijl and the points jerseys of five consecutive stage races, including his second of seven (so far) Tour de France green jerseys.
2015 Men’s Race: Wind can’t stop Paolini
Five years ago, on a course that visited France, the wind was so bad that IAM team director Rik Verbrugghe asked that the race be neutralized. Thomas was the most famous victim of the gusts.
Only 39 riders completed the very difficult and unpleasant course; Canadians Hugo Houle (Ag2r) and Dominique Rollin (Cofidis) weren’t among them.
In the final year of his career, 38-year-old Luca Paolini was part of a sextet including Thomas and Niki Terpstra in pursuit of a lone fugitive in the final 20-km. Terpstra had a slow wheel change, chased back on and then attacked, with only Paolini able to follow. The six reformed.
Paolini had enough of the cat and mouse games and darted up the road with 6-km remaining. The rest of the group dithered, so the Katusha man became the first Italian to win since 2002 and the race’s oldest champion. Terpstra sprinted to the runner-up spot and Thomas took his second podium in three days.
Fifteen years into his career, Paolini had won the 2014 Het Nieuwsblad and 2004 De Brabantse Pijl, and worn pink in the Giro d’Italia, but Gent-Wevelgem in 2015 was the topper. Paolini’s career would effectively end in July of that year after he tested positive for cocaine and drew an 18-month suspension. He later admitted to being addicted to sleeping drugs.
2017 Men’s Race: Van Avermaet at his peak
Greg Van Avermaet was on fire in the spring of 2017. The previous season had been a good one for BMC’s star, with wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Rio Olympic Games and GP Cycliste de Montréal and three days in the Tour de France’s yellow jersey on his 2016 palmares. After 23 race days in 2017, he had victories in Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke and a runner-up spot in Stade Bianche. Two weeks after Gent-Wevelgem, he finally claimed a cobblestone trophy from Paris-Roubaix after coming second to Philippe Gilbert at the Tour of Flanders.
The 2017 edition needed something to elevate the race after the heart-breaking death of Wanty-Gobert rider Antoine Demoitié in 2016. It boasted the addition of plugstreets, gravel sections 5.2 km in total, to commemorate the 1914 Christmas ceasefire during World War I. Canadian Hugo Houle was in the day’s breakaway.
Van Avermaet kicked it off on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. He drew an elite 13, eventually whittled down to a quintet. Finally, with 15-km to go, Van Avermaet bolted, compatriot Jens Keukeleire of Orica-Scott able to come along and Peter Sagan watching them ride away. Sagan’s chase trio held the Belgians steady for nine kilometres and then faded. Van Avermaet would not be denied that year.
2017 Women’s Race: Classic photo Finish
Lotta Henttala (née Lepistö) was a solid rider with a great reputation for her prowess in both in the road and time trial disciplines. The Finn was 16th overall in the 2016 women’s WorldTour after coming runner-up in La Course by Le Tour de France and Crescent Vårgårda. Only five days before Gent-Wevelgem she had won Dwars Door Vlaanderen.
However, the three winners of the first rounds of the Women’s WorldTour—series leader Elisa Longo Borghini, world champion Amalie Diderikson and Sunweb’s Coryn Rivera—were lined up in Ieper that Sunday.
Sunweb led out for Rivera, with 2016 champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak going early. Belgian Jolien d’Hoore surged around the flagging Blaak, with Henttala powering hard on her left. In a classic photo finish, the Finn prevailed over d’Hoore by millimetres. Rivera was third, but would enjoy a spell as the WorldTour leader after taking the following Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. Henttala triumphed at Crescent Vårgårda that fall.
2019 Men’s Race: To the max!
As Canadian Cycling Magazine’s Philippe Trembley wrote, “The sustained pace throughout the day was simply brutal.” When Alexandre Kristoff (Norway/UAE-Emirates) crossed the finish line for his biggest win since 2015’s Tour of Flanders, the race’s average speed was an astonishing 46.27 km/h and he had averaged a superhuman 345 watts for 5:26:08.
Two dangerous late breakaways, one containing three-time winner Sagan and the other centred around this year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad champion Jasper Stuyven, had to be reeled in before the sprint, Stuyven’s bunch caught with 700 metres remaining. Kristoff took a risk in going early into the wind but made the bold move stick, edging out 2014 winner John Degenkolb.
At that point in the season Deceuninck-Quick Step had won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Le Samyn, Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke, but the Wolfpack was shut out of the top-10.