It’s set for a match where Belgium take on the rest of the world in the 2020 Gent-Wevelgem on 11 October. The start list of the 82nd edition of the men’s race features many important home riders but their competition is fierce, starting with the defending champion, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) from Norway. The women's race, on the other hand, is still waiting for a first success by a Belgian athlete, with the closest so far being two second places by Jolien D'Hoore (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam) in 2017 and 2018. The defending champion is Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) from the Netherlands, the nation that has won the most editions.
The Elite Women will start at 1:45pm, running until around 5:35pm after the Elite Men set off at 10:00am, with an expected finish time around 4:00pm. “Given the extremely busy cycling season, we have adopted a flexible attitude,” says Tomas Van Den Spiegel, CEO of Flanders Classics. “In this way we give everyone the chance to follow all the races to the maximum. Also, this was an opportunity for us to put the women's races more in the spotlight.”
Big names on the men’s start list
An essential appointment in the Flemish Cycling Week, Gent-Wevelgem has a long tradition of famous fast winners including Belgians Rik Van Looy and Tom Boonen, Italian Mario Cipollini and Slovak Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – along with other Belgians, Robert Van Eenaeme and the legendary Eddy Merckx, all with three victories each.
Among the riders who already confirmed their participation there are several big names from Belgium including Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma), who won Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo and two stages in Tour de France; 2019 third place finisher Olivier Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale); 2018 Strade Bianche winner Tiesj Benoot (Team Sunweb); Classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), along with Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo).
Representing the ‘rest of the world’ side, there are three former champion with Kristoff (2019), his compatriot Edvald Boasson-Hagen (NTT Pro Cycling) the 2009 winner, and German John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal) who tasted victory in 2014. The highly competitive list continues with the Dutch trio of Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), BinckBank Tour winner Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Cees Bol (Team Sunweb). Alongside them are the European Champion Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) from Italy, Irishman Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick Step), former UCI Road World Champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) from Denmark, the German Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Swiss rider Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and the highly experienced Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) from Spain.
Dutch women to overcome
The women's race has two big names to follow, both from the Netherlands: the defending champion Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor), who is still looking for her first win in 2020, and her compatriot Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), recently third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In the young history of the women’s race, there are two other Dutch winners: Floortje Mackaij in 2015 and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak in 2016. The inaugural race in 2012 went to the Briton Lizzie Deignan (then Armitstead) before Wild took her first crown in 2013. The 2014 race was won by the American rider Lauren Hall, while the Finnish Lotta Henttala (then Lepistö) and Italian Marta Bastianelli won in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
On Sunday 11th October 2020 both the men’s and women’s races will start under the Menin Gate in Ypres. For both races it will be a challenge between the fastest wheels who can resist the pavé of the Kemmelberg to then play their cards in a reduced group sprint; no wonder the Gent-Wevelgem is nicknamed ‘The Sprinters’ Classic’. But there are also some significant climbs on the course, to open up opportunities for attackers.
The 2020 course had some changes, without the traditional passage over French roads due to the Covid-19 restrictions, so the race will be completely held inside the Belgian national border, facing all the iconic climbs of Moeren, the Plugstreets and the Kemmelberg before finishing in Wevelgem. Even in the completely reshuffled 2020 calendar, the tradition of the Tour of Flanders following one week later has been maintained.
Gent-Wevelgem wasn’t always a spring race...
Interestingly, this will not be the first time the race has been held at a time other than its traditional slot in the last week of March, just one week before the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The first edition in 1934 was just for Junior riders and took place on 9th September, organized by the local newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen as a tribute to one of the first Belgian cycling stars born in Wevelgem, Gaston Rebry. The second edition took place on 30 June and the third at the end of May, this time for independent riders.
After the hiatus due to World War II, the race changed to pro riders and was held in July until 1946 when it was moved back, first to May because of the busy summer calendar before finally finding its spring calendar home in 1947; that year the race invited two Italian cycling icons, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi. The first edition of the women race took place in 2012.