Defending champion Chantal Blaak headlines Boels-Dolmans six-strong squad for Gent Wevelgem on Sunday. She will line up in Ieper alongside world champion Amalie Dideriksen, Olympic road champion Anna van der Breggen, Lizzie Deignan, Luxembourgish champion Christine Majerus and Amy Pieters. The team skipped out on Dwars door Vlaanederen on Wednesday to focus on rest and recovery from illness and injury before the fourth round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour.
“We can’t do anything about illness and injury from last weekend,” said Blaak. “It was just bad timing, and it came all at the same time for everyone. That doesn’t mean we’re not strong, and it doesn’t mean our goals have changed. It’s funny how people always remember the last. I also remember Drenthe.”
Gent Wevelgem race organisers, Flanders Classics, have opted to take advantage of the UCI’s new race length limit for Sunday’s race. The women’s peloton will roll-out from Ieper and cover 148 kilometres, up from 115 kilometres last year, en route to Wevelgem.
Along the way, the race will cover three climbs: the Kemmelberg, Monteberg and Baneberg. With two ascents each of the Kemmelberg and Monteberg, there are five climbs in total. The last climb comes 42 kilometres from the finish.
“The climbs are all in the middle of the race,” said Blaak. “It’s an important part. In the other Flanders Classics, the cobbles and hills are more spread over the race, which makes the race harder. Still, there are enough options to make this race hard.”
A LOOK BACK
Blaak soloed to victory in 2016 when she slipped away from an elite selection of around 20 riders with ten kilometres still to race. Gap gained, Blaak never looked back. She eventually reached the finish line 1:24 ahead of a seven-rider chase group that formed in her wake. The win came with a bonus prize – the UCI Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey off the back of teammate Lizzie Deignan.
“I remember attacking,” said Blaak. “It was a long straight road with a lot of wind. We were with the whole team in the front group, and we started attacking. My move was the right one, and I had the whole team behind to control the race.”
A LOOK AHEAD
Blaak will likely be one of two previous winners on the Gent Wevelgem start line. Floortje Mackaij, racing for the strengthened Team Sunweb squad, is also on the start list. The increase in length and the diversification of talent amongst the teams could make for an unpredictable day. While Boels-Dolmans remains committed to its Ardennes ambitions, the Dutch-registered squad expects to challenge for the top step of the Gent Wevelgem podium.
“The Ardennes week is the most important one for us this spring, but we still want to win WorldTour races,” said team manager Danny Stam. “We have one from three already. We showed what we are capable of in Drenthe even when the team isn’t fully fit or healthy.”
Flanders Classics had made this section easy on us – confirming all basic information in advance. The women’s race will not be broadcast live. We expect highlights on the UCI YouTube channel and potentially on Sporza. While the men have #GWE, we’ll have #GWEWomen and #UCIWWT. The official twitter feed (@GentWevelgem) is quite good, and the Gent Wevelgem website is packed with useful information, including an interactive map that tells you when the race is expected at each of the five climbs. The action begins at 10:55am CET with an anticipated finish around 2:30pm.
Boels-Dolmans for Gent Wevelgem:
Anna van der Breggen
Jip van den Bos
Roster updated to reflect late change due to illness: Jip van den Bos replaces Lizzie Deignan