In-form sprinter Ireland’s Sam Bennett will be a marked man at today’s Belgian cycling classic, the epic 254km Gent-Wevelgem. The 2020 Tour de France sprint king has hit a rich vein of form with five wins so far in 2021.
He also rides for the master tacticians of the Belgian Deceuninck Quick-Step team for whom the Spring classics are the season’s real target.
The nature of the Gent-Wevelgem course has led half of the past 10 races to finish in a sprint.
If that happens today the gentle giant Bennett is the current fastest man in the business having forged a telepathic-like understanding with his sprint lead-out man the veteran Michael Morkov.
The 30-year-old Bennett won two stages at both the Paris-Nice and UAE Tour stage races before storming the Bruges-La Panne classic on Wednesday, his team’s 12th victory of 2021.
From seven sprints he’s been involved in this season he’s won five. “It’s my first one-day World Tour win,” Bennett said Wednesday. “It’s something I’ve been chasing for many years and I’m very happy to get it,” said the late blooming Bennett. I don’t focus on anyone else, I just do my own sprint.”
The other possibility for the finale would generally be a strong group of one day specialists getting away on an escape. This was the case in 2020 when the hardy Dane Mads Pedersen won from a group of five long-range escapees.
If there is much wind on the plains and fields of Flanders, some of the heavy rollers who can power through those types of conditions can take advantage but the weather forecast favours Bennett. Classics fans will eagerly await the performance of Bora superstar Peter Sagan, who is just hitting form after being ill with Covid-19. The four-time world champion came fourth at the Milan-San Remo.
The Slovak will be in good company if a break does form with the ubiquitous Belgian Wout van Aert of Jumbo showing astonishing consistency again this season. Van Aert was in for a win on the bone-clattering E3 Belgian classic on Friday, but punctured on the run in.
Much will revolve on the outcome of the race’s great challenge with two ascents of Mont Kemmel, just 1.4km long with an almost eight percent gradient, and perfect for a lithe breakaway.
The last word has to go to the breakout Briton Tom Pidcock of Ineos. Just 21 the Yorkshireman is being hailed as a potential world beater due not only to his power, but his sense of racing and imperious bike handling skills.
His coach Kurt Bogaerts said this week “he almost doesn’t need to train he’s so fit”. “We knew he was a huge talent with a great work ethic and when you have those things combined with a desire to have fun, you know it can work.”
Pidcock will return to his beloved mountain-biking next month in an attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Games race on Mont Fuji. He showed enough at Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianchi to suggest he can roll with the big guns in Flanders today.
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