The name may suggest otherwise, but for over a decade Gent-Wevelgem hasn’t started in Ghent. The riders click into their pedals in Ypres and the flag for the official start falls near the Brooding Soldier, a Canadian World War I memorial located in the small village of Saint-Julien.
The riders traverse the flat fields of Flanders in the first half of the race before Gent-Wevelgem enters France after 130 kilometres. Shortly, the first uphills appear and Mont des Chats, Vert Mont, Mont Noir and again Mont Noir (this time from another side) are tackled on the trot. The pack returns to Belgium for the last 90 kilometres.
Back on Gent-Wevelgem’s home-soil another combo of short and sharp climbs appears. The Baneberg serves its ramps of up to 20% on a 300 metres climb before the 3 kilometres Kemmelberg takes in a maximum grade of 17%. The route then continues onto the Monteberg.
Still 70 kilometres left to race when Gent-Wevelgem offers a ‘Flemish style’ version of Strade Bianche. In short succession the route includes three sections on unpaved roads with the first two strips slightly sloping in open plains. The last of the so-called plugstreets runs through the forest.
Gent-Wevelgem returns the Baneberg/Kemmelberg combo in the last 45 kilometres. The Kemmelberg is particularly intimidating as the second ascent is on the western side, meaning cobbles and a steepest sector of 23%.
Kemmelberg is the last obstacle of the day and the remaining 34 kilometres are played out on straight and often windy roads. There is one change of direction when the route moves through Ypres again to leave the place via the renowned Menin Gate Memorial. Chasers will have a perfect target if there are any attackers up the road.
Last year, Peter Sagan, Mike Teunissen, Matteo Trentin, Dylan Theuns and Luke Rowe were half a minute clear when they moved through Ypres. The peloton brought them back inside the last 18 kilometres. Other attacks were neutralised before Alexander Kristoff outgunned John Degenkolb and Oliver Naesen on the line.