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Gent-Wevelgem Ups the Ante... For Women Too!

Belgium_mediumFlanders Classics has shown that they will not be outdone in a couple respects -- challenging the men and including the women -- as evident in yesterday's announcement of their plans for the 2012 Gent Wevelgem. The biggest news is that some sort of women's competition will take place on the same day, the Sunday before the Tour of Flanders. The other bit is that the men's race will include

For now, the women's race is more promise than sizzle. It will start out ranked as a national race (no UCI points, no auto invites), with the intention of becoming an international one in future turns. And in 2012, it'll be held on the same day as the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, a major classic by any measure and a UCI world cup staple. For now, it's probably best to view the Women's Gent-Wevelgem as a demonstration project which, if successful, could result in a change in its stature and some reconfiguring of the calendar. At best, you could see some of the top northern European teams attending, at least the ones which don't have high hopes in Italy. Certainly, you'll never run out of eligible Belgians, so the field will be adequate. One dreamy future scenario, e.g. 2013 or so: Alfredo Binda moves back a week so you get a women's classics season not unlike the men's, with Alf Binda the same weekend as MSR, then women's Gent-Wevelgem a week later and women's Ronde van Vlaanderen the week after that, with the Ronde van Drenthe and La Fleche Wallonne Feminine wrapping things up. Stay tuned.

Men's stuff... on the flip!

On the men's side, once again Flanders Classics is saying they plan to up the ante on Gent-Wevelgem. Adding the Casselberg, a beefy cobbled climb featured in 4 Jours de Dunkirque, FC is promising once again to make the race over 230km. The extra length has been floated a couple times since GW went to Sunday, and both times the riders and teams have beaten it back to a more manageable 219km. With yesterday's announcement it sounds like FC is having another go at the longer version, but we shall see if it sticks.

The headliner is the Casselberg, or perhaps more properly Mont Cassel -- it's in French Flanders, or Flemish France. It's in France, but the people there are at least somewhat Flemish. Regardless, the climb is 3300 meters long averaging 4%, with sporadic cobbles and ramps of 7%. Sort of a less bumpy Oude Kwaremont, if that helps. That said, this is what I found about one side of the climb; apparently there is another approach, and I don't have stats for that.


and a picture...


Nothing too nasty there. But I wouldn't rule out the presence of a different, far worse approach.

The implications are fun to contemplate. First, FC is staking a claim for one of the most important entities in the world of women's racing. We've complained for a while that more races should run a women's event the same day, since courses for major men's events are closed for hours and hours, meaning there isn't much additional cost to a women's event. This plan means FC is opening its two biggest events to women. Not too shabby.

Second, the Mont Cassel addition is perhaps another tit-for-tat move in FC's endless battle for weekend supremacy with E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, the only major event in Vlaamse Wielerweek FC doesn't own. For years E3 owned the weekend and served up Tom Boonen's favorite Ronde warmup, with over 200km and a steady diet of cobbled hills taken straight from the Ronde roadmap. Then GW muscled in on the scene. In 2010, the preference for E3's climbs held sway, but last year the urgency of UCI points (available at GW, not at E3) turned the tables. Now E3 is a UCI points race, so maybe the tables turn back its way? Hence the desire on FC's part to add more climby bits to Gent-Wevelgem.

We will need more details before we start ruling out the sprinters in GW. For two years the race has run a gauntlet of small climbs -- Baneberg, Rodeberg, Scherpeberg -- and the traditional Kemmelberg/Monteberg monster. Twice. The last two winners were Bernhard Eisel, in a small bunch sprint, and Tom Boonen in a bigger bunch. Cassel is a long way from Wevelgem, so my hunch is that the extra climbing, early on, won't dent the hopes of guys like Farrar and Cavendish too terribly much. But we shall see.