The Classics show continues tomorrow with Gent-Wevelgem, a classic that struggles to find it’s character from one year to another. Don’t get me wrong, G-W is a Classic with a reputation for great riders, great racing, and frenzied fans. Just try getting up the Kemmelberg anytime after 10am tomorrow—you’ll see. (But if you do, stop into the Belvedere Café at the top for a pintje and some steak frites.)
What I mean about the race’s character is that—similar to Milan-San Remo—one can never tell when it will be year for a breakway or a field sprint. Typically a small group of riders will go away early in the hopes of being out front by the time live coverage starts. At least one of these riders will be Belgian. Could VDB go for the glory? The first time the race hits the Kemmelberg, the favorites will test their legs (look for Flecha to get things started). Some will do it to try and break the race apart, others will do it for the training, and still more will do it to place themselves for the dangerous descent to follow. Perhaps a small group of these riders will stay away for the next lap. Perhaps they’ll be caught quickly—it depends usually on which way the wind is blowing (literally). Sometimes these groups get larger on the next ascent; if they get the right teams represented they might even stay away for the win.
What I’d like to see happen would be for a small group—of 3 or 4—break away on the 1st or 2nd ascent of the Kemmelberg and hold it all the way to Wevelgem. 2005, 2001, and 1998 come to mind. True to the race's history however, I have a feeling there will be a bunch kick—and Cavendish will get the win.
The rest of my favorites?
Quick Step would love another win before leaving for France. Honestly though, I think they’ll be looking ahead. This could a day for Chavanel—if he gets in the right move—to foil the sprinters.
As for Silence-Lotto, Gilbert looks better for this race than he does for Roubaix. If the team doesn’t try and save him for Amstel and the Ardennes he could be one to watch—again, if there’s a break that succeeds. Hoste will probably be saving his legs. And Van Avermaet?
I mentioned Flecha already; Haussler’s on the line too. Hincapie and Burghart are both former winners, but they’ll most likely be working for Marky-Mark C. And don’t forget Tom Boonen. Could he fire a warning shot for Sunday? Will Pozzato leave his wheel long enough to try for the win himself? And what about Robbie McEwan? Will he try and teach Cavendish a lesson on his adopted home turf? Clerc, Weylandt, Roelandts, and Vaitkus are sprinters who could shine should Cavvie be having a bad day. Quinziato might just have one more break in him.
It’s just going to come down to motivation. Will the teams with serious Roubaix aspirations be willing to do enough to put a rider in a winning position? Or will they just use the race to train, content to let the sprinters’ teams control the pace.
We’ll see tomorrow. Your picks?