The Flemish Classics continue with the 11th edition of the Women’s Gent Wevelgem on Sunday, March 26th, often seen as the lead up to Ronde van Vlaanderen. Before the wheels roll out from under the historic Menin Gate at the city’s edge in Ypres, the race takes a moment to commemorate the victims who lost their lives in the area during World War I.
Holding to tradition, once the flag waves the peloton will clip in to begin their 162.5km battle. Time will tell whether the winds will be the deciding factor early on, making their way through the fields of De Moeren, or the punchy climb up the Kemmelberg from the steeper Ossuaire side that was introduced last season. The last few editions the field has managed to come back together in time for a bunch sprint to the finish.
One notable change this year is the offer of equal prize money at all three Flanders Classic, including Gent Wevelgem. Last year the race organizers pledged to close the gap between the men and women, by offering equal prize money at the Tour of Flanders with a promise to include Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Gent Wevelgem in 2023. They honor their commitment by offering equal prize money and recognition for the first time at Gent Wevelgem this season.
The pro women take the stage on Thursday, March 23 following the men’s race on Wednesday. Catch all the action just before 13:00 local time in Ypres.
Race organizers have chosen to keep the 162.5km route similar to last year’s edition, which saw the women climb up the Kemmelberg from the steeper Ossuaire side in the final circuit. After the start, they head out towards West-Vlaanderen, past De Panne and once again through the fields of De Moeren that saw racing action only a few days prior at the Brugge – De Panne.
The field will then hit the circuits in Wevelgem with the first climb at 97.1km up the Scherpenberg, then a series of climbs a few short kilometers later that include the Baneberg, Moneteberg, and at last, their first pass up the Kemmelberg from the Belvedère side. Looping around again will give those punchy climbers another opportunity to gain time to escape ahead of the finish.
The second pass, the peloton will deviate after climbing up the Moneteberg once again, to face the steeper side up the Kemmelberg from Ossuaire with 34.4km to go. Those lucky to escape any mechanicals up these narrow climbs will hope to have the legs to fight for the finish. Should a breakaway get caught, racing fans will see another exciting finish in Wevelgem.
Riders to Watch
The battleground is set for Gent Wevelgem, with the return of Elisa Longo Borghini to support Elisa Balsamo in defense of her title for Trek Segafredo. Their rivals will be itching to take over that top step with Lotte Kopecky, alongside Lorena Wiebes taking the lead for SD Worx. The two have been on fire since the Classics season began.
Missing from the starting line will be last year’s runner up, and 2021 winner Marianne Vos. The Jumbo Visma superstar opened her road season last week at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, losing contact with the front group on the final climb. Vos had cramped up just before the finish but according to Team Jumbo Visma’s Race Coach, Carmen Small, was happy with the starting point. “Marianne’s ability to perform at this level already is encouraging,” Small said in a team update. Vos underwent a pelvic artery surgery in February.
Other riders hoping to upset the top rivals include UAE Team ADQ Marta Bastianelli who finished inside the top ten last year, and FDJ’s Grace Brown. Also missing from the starting line will be Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team) as she continues to recover from a broken collarbone suffered at Strade Bianche.
‘Watch the Femmes’ TV Coverage: Eurosport, Proximus Pickx (Belgium)
When: Sunday, 26 March
Where: Ypres to Wevelgem, Belgium
What: 1-day Spring Classic
Riders to Watch:
Elisa Balsamo *****
Elisa Longo Borghini ****
Lotte Kopecky ****
Lorena Wiebes ***
Marta Bastianelli **
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By Rebecca Reza