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Last Winners

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Written by Wicky (2005-03-01 00:00)
Translated by DZI (2006-01-11 00:00:00)

At the same time as the “Vuelta al País Vasco” stage race is held in Spain, Belgium hosts one of their classic races. Gent – Wevelgem is held for the first time in 1934. Back then the flag first came down on the 9th of the 9th that year.

In those days all races were very long indeed, 300 kilometres was no exception. Surprisingly enough, this race was the odd one out and with only 120 kilometres raced, the riders already arrived in Wevelgem. Gustav van Belle only sat 3.5 hours on his bike when he was the first victor of this inaugural edition. In 1945, just after the Second World War, the race was elevated to a professional level.

After receiving that professional “label” the route is reviewed. The organisers add some more tarmac into the route, so now more than 200 kilometres have to be raced. But the route seems to change almost every year, and a few years later the riders have to endure 277 km on their bikes. Lateron, the distance was reduced again, now 244 kilometres long, and slowly the lenght reduced to it’s present level of around the 210 kilometre mark.

Squeezed in between the Tour of Flanders and Paris – Roubaix (The Hell of the North), Gent – Wevelgem did achieve it’s goals and managed to develope a character of it’s own. Just on the basis of lenght and long winding roads right across the flat countryside where the wind is a constant factor and a true enemy of the riders. Also, a climb called the “Kemmelberg” will look like a hughe climb when weatherconditions are bad, and often makes the difference in the race.

In short the race is a true classic now and this race suits attacking riders very much. Also sprinters stand a good chance if their teams manage to keep the pack together. Past winners include some very big names like Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil. Local hero Rik van Looy was very proud of his three wins, so was “Iron” Briek Schotte (two wins).

Also in the modern era well known champions are present. Mario Cipollini (3 wins) and now Tom Boonen are the masters of sprint. In 2005 no sprint, but a controversial win by Nico Mattan was somewhat of a scandal. Lone escapist Juan Antonio Flecha (Spanish) was clearly on his way to winning the race, when 2nd placed Mattan (Belgian), aided by the following cars and many motorcycles, overtook Flecha with only a few hundred metres to go and won Gent - Wevelgem. Protests by Flecha’s team were rejected. Let’s just hope the organisers won’t allow this to happen twice!

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