This Spring Classics season we selected 7 locations along the routes of the legendary one day races to define their significance in cycling history.
Zebras at the Seaside
An alternative name for Ghent-Wevelgem could be ‘to the seaside and back’, for the race route always heads north-west from the start (which is in Deinze not Ghent) and travels to the coast, runs parallel to the sea for a while then turns back inland. However, so stressful is this part of the race that the riders probably wouldn’t appreciate the analogy to a bucket and spade day out.
Though the Kemmelberg is the iconic climb we associate with the race, the earlier loop out to the coast is just as traditional. The route heads to De Panne and Veurne, passing close to Koksijde (of cyclo-cross sand dune fame). The roads are flat but exposed and brutal side-winds blowing from the sea split the peloton into echelons.
This is where the race can be lost – either because you get pushed into a back group, and reach the Kemmelberg hopelessly out of position, or because the sheer effort of staying near the front rips your legs off, for which you will pay in the finale. Having a team to protect you helps. Being a lowlander able to read the wind and the roads also helps.
Like Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem is a race that could wind up in a sizeable bunch sprint, or a breakaway group, or a solo winner. Its unpredictability is part of its charm.
In 2002 a 21-man group escaped as the peloton split into 6 echelons on the wind-battered coastal roads. When the group hit the Kemmelberg a 4-man group containing George Hincapie and Fred Rodriguez escaped and looked to be the winning break. Only one man still had the legs to bridge up to them.
At 35, Mario Cipollini was riding audaciously. He counter-attacked going down off the Kemmelberg, chased the group on the fast flat roads towards Wevelgem, then beat the two Americans in a sprint finish. And to make it even more perfect, he was wearing full Acqua & Sapone zebra stripe shorts and jersey, with handlebar tape to match.
More episodes of Spring Classic scenes:
MILAN-SANREMO – Turning Point