Gent-Wevelgem Preview 2016


Having ticked off several Belgian classics and one monument in the shape of Milan-San Remo, the final days of March are seen out with a race tilted more in the favour of the sprinters than the strongmen of the cobbles; Gent-Wevelgem once again poised to be an exciting race in the face of some potentially miserable weather. Possessing a rich and longstanding history in the Belgian cycling calendar, there is no doubt that Gent-Wevelgem is a classic, but one which differs considerably from the brutal contests of the Tour of Flanders or E3 Harelbeke. Instead, the climbs are fewer and somewhat less arduous, while a longer flat conclusion to the day shifts the dynamic away from those more synonymous with last gasp charges over leg shattering hellingen. This 243km challenge is by no means simple though, boasting ten climbs in total, with much of the attention focused upon two ascents of the historic Kemmelberg; the second of which featuring ramps of 23%. No doubt an elite group shall form ahead of the final stretch into Wevelgem, setting up an exciting pursuit with those desperately trying to stay in contention for the win behind, many of whom will be anticipating a bunch sprint of sorts to crown the victor.



Peter Sagan is in fantastic form currently, yet still finds victory elusive, stunning many when finishing behind Michal Kwiatkowski at E3; a race which looked destined to be his as the flamme rouge passed overhead. His issue seems to be the blunting of his top speed at the end of a gruelling contest, something he will hope to be less decisive at Gent-Wevelgem where the largely shared impetus to force a sprint should save him energy. Assuming he makes the right moves and leans on others to do a greater share of the work, Sagan could finally strike upon the glory his rainbow bands deserve.

Etixx-QuickStep have picked up where they left off during last year’s classics campaign, already squandering numerical advantages at decisive moments on several occasions in 2016 and the pressure will be on today to rectify this. Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin looked dangerous at E3, but choked when it mattered most, both will fancy their chances in a sprint and will be confident of arriving in good condition here too. The Belgian outfits wildcard however is Colombian Fernando Gaviria, his turn of pace in 2016 thus far has been blistering, but it remains uncertain as to how well he shall cope with the race and the weather.

Fabian Cancellara has never won this race, but judging by his showings so far this season, there is little to suggest he cannot change this today. The Swiss legend should make the anticipated selection on the Kemmelberg, leaving him the possibility of attacking solo and giving his rivals the unenviable task of reeling him back in, or hold on for a reduced sprint finish which he has form of dominating after a testing race such as this.

The likes of Giacomo NizzoloBryan Coquard and Nacer Bouhanni are all types of sprinter who could survive the rigours of the Kemmelberg’s attacks in good shape and ride themselves back into contention should a late move break free. All three have taken victories in 2016, including at the end of some testing days given their reputation as pure sprinters; it would be foolish to underestimate the dogged determination of a sprinter to stay in contention when he feels there is a trophy with his name on it if he makes the cut.

Admittedly, this race should end in a sprint, but there will be plenty of strong riders out who are poised to instigate a winning move which stays away and contests the win amongst their limited ranks. Ian Stannard makes surviving a race such as this look easier than it really is and he will be a marked man given his immense strength for helping a move to stick. Edward Theuns, Jens Debusschere and Tiesj Benoot are all likely protagonists in a breakaway winning move, all three having ridden impressively this Spring, while a Belgian winner would be a huge victory for the home fans too.


1st Peter Sagan 2nd Fabian Cancellara 3rd Edward Theuns


A Spring In His Tale – What Suits Bradley Wiggins?

The WorldTour career of Britain’s Bradley Wiggins looks destined to be wrapped up during the Spring of 2015; stepping down to his eponymously titled ‘WIGGINS’ Pro-Conti team. Though yet to be officially confirmed, Wiggins appears to be taking his bow from the WorldTour in the form of a serious run at the classics; culminating in an attempt to secure Paris-Roubaix victory with his last hurrah. With speculation rife as to what his programme could be ahead of Paris – Roubaix, Spokenforks has investigated to see which races might take Bradley’s fancy and whether he will have a chance at an early season win.

  • Paris – Roubaix

Driven by an obsession with the legendary classic and motivated by last year’s unexpected top 10 finish upon his debut; Bradley Wiggins has Paris-Roubaix in his crosshairs. Agreeing on the perfect cup of tea seems an easier task than identifying what makes a Roubaix champion though: The grit of De Vlaeminck? Boonen’s tenacity? Cancellara’s power? Whatever the answer to the physical requirements of a winner, Bradley Wiggins will need buckets of luck in order to win his day in hell. He shall be a marked man, so a Johan Van Summeran inspired victory might be off the cards; Team Sky’s tactics will need to be spot on come April 12th.

  • Milan – San Remo

Part of his Spring campaign might also include an appearance at one of the most gruelling days in the saddle. Last year’s edition of Milan – San Remo bordered on the apocalyptic at times, making it difficult to envision Wiggins riding its entirety should similar conditions be present once again. Teammate Ben Swift secured a podium here in 2014 and will want assurance that the team will be totally committed to him once again as he targets his own (and Sky’s) first Classics win. Favouring the tough men with a fast finish, Wiggins has little chance of pulling off an upset here should he wish to; though Vincenzo Nibali did animate the race late on last year however. Unless Bradley Wiggins has another Tour de Romandie-esque sprint hidden up his sleeve, do not expect much to shout about here.

  • Tour of Flanders

Fabian Cancellara will be eager to complete a hat-trick of consecutive wins at this race in 2015, but Bradley Wiggins could play a role in the final outcome on the day. A good head for tactics and a massive engine are common ground shared by these two time trial specialists, making the notion of a fight between the two seem quite plausible. Cancellara has found riders following his wheel in these big races, but repeatedly shows the required class to dispatch all pretenders to his thrown once the chips are down. Bradley Wiggins could prove an unexpectedly challenging prospect to ditch on the short cobbled ramps of Flanders though. With the assumption that Wiggins has been training for the short anaerobic efforts required to win Paris – Roubaix, a spectacular edition might just be on the cards in Flanders.

  • Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

The nearest thing Sky have in the trophy cabinet to a Classics win thanks to Ian Stannard, there is no doubt he will want to defend his title after a injury hit 2014 season. On first glance, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the type of race where Wiggins can demonstrate his effectiveness and impact within a support role, setting a potent pace and keeping Ian Stannard or Geraint Thomas out of danger. It might not be a huge stretch however to picture Wiggins acting as a plan B; possibly finding himself in a winning position after smuggling himself aboard a breakaway late on.

  • Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne

Team Sky have had success twice here in the form of Chris Sutton and Mark Cavendish (2011 & 2012 respectively) and are likely to fancy another victory with Ian Stannard, Ben Swift or even Elia Viviani leading the attack. Should Wiggins ride here, his role will be to support once again in a vein similar to that of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad; keeping his teammates out of trouble while making life hard for everyone else.

  • Strade Bianchi

Perhaps not an obvious choice of programming for Wiggins, Strade Bianchi offers a mixed bag of Roubaix inspired roads and testing hills fitting of the Flanders’ landscape. It would not be totally foolish to envision this a dry run for Paris-Roubaix, as Team Sky begin testing how Wiggins and the squad function best at a race requiring skill and luck in equal measure. Recent winners come from a similar mould also, with the victories of Michal Kwiatkowski and Fabian Cancellara surely seen as encouragement for any attempt by Wiggins to win here. A dry and dusty sun baked day in Italy would be enough to offer us all a glimpse into the future and the real chance of ‘Wiggins’ being forever affixed to the Roubaix shower block.

  • Dwars door Vlaanderen

With former winners of this race including Nike Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel in recent years, Bradley Wiggins might find himself an unexpected contender on the day depending on events. However, attention is likely to be focused more upon another Grand Tour winner in the shape of Nairo Quintana; a man who has decided to make his cobbled debut in preparation of the inclusion of pavé at this year’s Tour de France once again. Vincenzo Nibali is, thus far at least, the only Grand Tour rider to have demonstrated a real level of fearlessness and ability when tackling the dangerous cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix during 2014’s Le Tour de France. Witnessing how his fellow general classification riders will fair during Dwars door Vlaanderen will make fascinating viewing for the Italian.

  • E3 – Harelbeke

Another favourite of messrs Boonen and Cancellara (8 wins between them) should only lure Wiggins along in order to gain race sharpness and further experience on the cobbles in a hectic race. Once again however, it is likely that attention will be drawn away from the Sky man, with Nairo Quintana set to race E3 – Harelbeke as well as Dwars door Vlaanderen during his swotting up of the cobbles. Geraint Thomas has finished well here twice recently and is likely to be leading the charge once again with Bradley Wiggins his loyal lieutenant.

  • Gent – Wevelgem

An attractive prospect to both sprinters and strongmen alike, Gent – Wevelgem is a testing day which usually leaves an elite group of riders to duke it out for the win come the final kilometres. Perhaps a target for Ian Stannard, Wiggins could be part of the squad which aims to shell the rivals out the back before helping Stannard on his way to a big win.

  • Scheldeprijs

The last chance to get some race fitness into the legs before Paris – Roubaix; Wiggins might decide to swerve an appearance at a race dominated by sprinters to assure he suffers no last minute injuries before the big day. Marcel Kittel will be attempting to make it 4 wins on the bounce in 2015; could Wiggins be part of a team which leads Elia Viviani to victory over the all conquering German?