The start in peace city Ypres, where under the Menenpoort the unofficial starting signal will sound and the Great War is closer than ever. But besides the link with the First World War, it is also looking forward to De Moeren, the West Flemish Heuvelland and the plugstreets. Like every year, the question in Gent-Wevelgem 2023 will be: are we going to have a bunch sprint on the Vanackerestraat or a depleted group of cobbled climbers? Voorjaarsklassiekers.be takes an extensive look ahead to Ghent Wevelgem 2023!
Preview Ghent Wevelgem 2023
Although we’re not going to get another straight duel between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in Gent-Wevelgem 2023 – we’re still going to get that ever-recurring question about this classic in advance: are we going to get a bunch sprint? A sprint with an elite group? Or will we see a great champion, say WVA himself, arrive here solo? Before we highlight Gent Wevelgem 2023 in the favourites, we first dive into its illustrious history – if only to fully grasp the race. After this (below after the history of Ghent Wevelgem, that is) we get to the favourites, with the well-known stars and the dark horses!
Contenders & Favourites Gent Wevelgem 2023
Days before Gent-Wevelgem 2023, with classics as the Omloop, Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and the E3 behind us, we can conclude that the current generation of riders is causing unprecedented wealth. The days of calculated riding are over. Through intuition and gusto, the classics are being broken open sooner than ever, resulting in finals to lick the thumbs and fingers off.
If the tempestuous weather of the past few days continues on Sunday, we might be in for another brilliant race on Sunday. Which riders will light the fuse early? How will the passage through De Moeren affect the course of the race? And who are the biggest favourites for Gent-Wevelgem 2023?
“In this year’s E3 Saxo Classic, my form level dictated that I had to race a bit more defensively, and try to hang on to it. But that also makes it beautiful again. I won the race, not by being the strongest, but… It’s a victory that counts,” said Wout van Aert after his victory in the E3 on Friday. That there is work to be done to put the final touches to his absolute main goals (the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix) is evident. But that Van Aert will be the man to beat on Sunday, in the absence of Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu Van der Poel – is clear! Who can make things difficult for Wout van Aert in Gent-Wevelgem 2023?
Then, first of all, we come to Alpecin-Fenix’s leader. No, not MVDP this time, but Jasper Philipsen. Due to the severe weather conditions, with rain and wind it was really Flandrien weather, as well as the passage through the Moeren, we could consider the Classic Brugge-De Panne as a mini-Gent Wevelgem. The race was won by a rock-solid Jasper Philipsen, who in the post-race flash interview with Renaat Schotte remarked that he was very much looking forward to Wevelgem. Count on him!
After victories in Oman, the UAE Tour, Paris-Nice and the Flemish classic Nokere Koerse, we can say that Tim Merlier is in high form. The Belgian of Soudal-Quick Step still has a bill to settle in Wevelgem. ‘I certainly wasn’t super today, I couldn’t really ride full throttle on the cobbles either. The passages on the Kemmelberg were not good from my side. But I know I can keep my sprint skills, even after a long hard race. I win that sprint too. Unfortunately, I think the best were in the front today. We weren’t sitting still at the back either huh. Handsome win by Girmay, he’s a nice winner,’ 30-year-old sprint bomb commented after last year’s finish. With Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert and Davide Ballerini, they can also gamble on a different scenario at Quick-Step, but count on Merlier being very keen to win here. He gets our three stars behind Van Aert and Philipsen.
Behind these three Belgians, we rate Mads Pedersen the most likely to walk away with the win. The Dane knows how to win in Gent-Wevelgem. In the corona edition in autumn 2020, the clever former world champion was the smartest, riding to victory in an elite group. Where back then, a week before the Tour of Flanders, the big guns Van Aert and Van der Poel were looking at each other and not responding to some attacks, it was the Trek-Segafredo valve who took advantage of that and beat Florian Sénéchal in the sprint. Like Van Aert, Pedersen’s absolute goals are yet to follow in the cobbled monuments, but with a win in Gent-Wevelgem in his pocket, Pedersen can make his spring season a success in one fell swoop!
The final star. It could have just gone to Søren Kragh Andersen. We already tipped him in the E3 and he did not hide there. He again proved to be a very important servant for Van der Poel and rode to ninth place. However, we think Kragh Andersen will mainly ride in service of Philipsen. Christophe Laporte could also have earned a star. The Frenchman was in the leading group last year, but was beaten in the sprint by an unknown African, more on that later. Stefan Küng and Matej Mohoric, already punishing at the front in the E3 on Friday, are also cobbled riders who will ride at the front in the run-up to the Ronde. And the same goes for Quick-Step’s aforementioned trio. No star for them all.
No, the final star goes to newly 21-year-old Dutchman Olav Kooij. If only because some editors of Voorjaarsklassiekers.be favour the super-talent so much. Proved at the beginning of the month in Paris-Nice that the Netherlands has gained a new sprint sensation and can revenge his second place in the Classic Brugge-De Panne on Sunday. Of course, that second place is super handsome. But Kooij will want to take revenge on Philipsen on Sunday. Should the course be such that not Van Aert, but Kooij is at the front – we should all take him into account!
The dark horse for Ghent Wevelgem 2023 is Biniam Girmay. And mind you, the dark horse is not some other flutzy poodle prize, let that be clear. Rather, in our star construction, the dark horse is someone who might be rated higher that the riders with a one star or two stars, but who is an outsider for whatever reason. Of course, Biniam Girmay is the defending champion. And the pressure will be high because everyone needs something from him. And everyone expects miracles this year. But we saw on Friday that the 22-year-old rider from Eritrea is not a true-blooded Flandrien. A DNF in the E3. Was it the cold and wind that forced the Intermarché – Circus – Wanty to abandon? Or was a tactical choice by not catching more cold and saving himself for Sunday? In order to pull off another stunt? Because precisely because of the disappointing performance in E3 Harelbeke last Friday, it will be another stunt if Girmay wins Sunday. Condition not as good as last year? Go on, off you go. He was just on target in the Tirreno. Fingers crossed for some softer conditions and you can just score points with Bini again on Sunday in the pronostics!
Any more dark horses? Yes definitely. Arnaud de Lie came, saw and conquered. Well, almost. Unfortunately no victory in the Omloop, as Dylan van Baarle puffed out that unprecedented solo. But debuting in the Flemish spring classic with a second place, chapeau! And riding top-ten again a day later in Kuurne. The whole of cycling-loving Flanders thought it had embraced a new hero. The cross between Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen, who should also be able to compete for the win at Milan Sanremo. Or to ride short in Paris-Nice. He did the latter, but couldn’t win. And even after Milan Sanremo (De Lie finished 95th), the Bull of Lescheret was back on earth. However, Gent-Wevelgem is another race of a completely different calibre. Just write down De Lie! A nice dark horse who can win just like that!
Then the last dark horse. Behind Girmay and De Lie, we also see a dangerous outsider in Alexander Kristoff. The lively Norwegian was, just like De Lie, in Omloop on appointment. A fourth place was the highest achievable, but the enthusiasm splashed off. The 35-year-old Bear from Stavanger will light an extra candle tonight for severe weather Sunday. The Uno-X clapper thrives on a tough race and knows how to crack the Gent-Wevegem code.
Contenders and favorites Ghent Wevelgem 2023 according to Cycling-Classics.com
***** Wout van Aert
**** Jasper Philipsen
*** Tim Merlier
** Mads Pedersen
* Olav Kooij
Dark horses: Biniam Girmay, Arnaud de Lie en Alexander Kristoff