Gent Wevelgem Women 2023 Race Preview

Elisa Balsamo Gent Wevelgem 2022

Gent-Wevelgem Women History

Gent Wevelgem Women has a decent shout as being one of the strongest Spring Classics races in the women’s calendar. We’ve seen both the expected sprint finishes and also the odd attack and small break contest the win. The only multiple winner of Gent Wevelgem Women so far is Kristen Wild in 2013 & 2019. The race has developed over the years and recently has become much more similar to the men’s edition. The legendary Kemmelberg is now attacked from both sides and the additional windy section through De Moeren was also added last season.

Gent Wevelgem Women has leaned into the history of the area as the centenary years of the First World War passed and there are plenty of memorials of that conflict visible at the roadside. So whilst there are plenty of other climbs in this race, the Kemmelberg is the one that captures the most attention. A hill fought over repeatedly in World War 1, the race’s hardest section passes an ossuary containing the bones of those who gave their lives on the hill.

Recent years have seen the sprinters get their way, there is around 30km to race from the Kemmelberg back into Wevelgem. Unless the wind is just right, the gaps are tough to keep open on long straight roads that favour the bunch. It’s likely we see another sprint this year but the current forecast has the potential for echelons to form on the late stretch from Ypres to Menen before the road turns for the finish to Wevelgem.

Previous Winners

2022
Elisa Balsamo
2021
Marianne Vos
2020
Jolien d’Hoore

Gent-Wevelgem Women 2023 Profile

TV Coverage

Sunday 26th March 2023

Live Eurosport/GCN
14:15-16:50 GMT

Twitter: #GW23

Startlist: FirstCycling

Gent-Wevelgem Women 2023 Contenders

Trek Segafredo will be on a confidence high after another 1-2 finish at Trofeo Alfredo Binda last weekend. That race saw Shirin van Anrooij become a Women’s WorldTour winner for the first time and push the cyclocross star up another level on the road. She’ll probably take on a similar role at Gent Wevelgem Women for the team, going on the attack to take pressure off the team’s main shout in the sprint, Elisa Balsamo. The former World Champion was 2nd at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, winning the bunch sprint behind Van Anrooij. Last year’s winner here appears to be in good form and will hope for a hard race to drop as many sprinting rivals as possible. The wildcard is Elisa Longo Borghini who has been out with Covid recently – which has seen the Italian miss home country races Strade Bianche and Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

SD Worx appears to be bringing the major firepower again in Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes. The tactic of attacking hard with Plan A and then sprinting with Plan B has worked well for both SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo this season it has to be said. I sort of suspect that plan is tempered slightly at Gent Wevelgem where attacks seem to be fruitless in recent years. We might yet finally see the sight of Lotte Kopecky leading out Lorena Wiebes which feels somewhat of a cheat code when it comes to sprinting in the women’s peloton. You’d need some hypothetical form of Jolien d’Hoore leading out Kristen Wild to come close to that in a previous generation. Wiebes hasn’t won here yet, although it felt inevitable when she was 2nd in 2019. She’s a more developed rider now and should be the main contender.

As much as I’d like to tip Chiara Consonni, this is very much a Marta Bastianelli race for UAE Team ADQ. The Italian has 5 top-10 placings in a row finishing in Wevelgem. That includes a victory in 2018 but usually, she can be found just off the podium in around the 4th to 6th spots. That feels likely again because she has the form after a win at Le Samyn des Dames and podiums at Nokere Koerse, Omloop van het Hageland and Omloop het Nieuwsblad in her final season.

A big unknown at this year’s Gent Wevelgem Women is Charlotte Kool. Like it’s obvious she will sprint well but I’m not sure we’ve seen that she can crest hills like the Kemmelberg and remain in the front group yet. Her best result here in 3 editions is 61st last year and whilst things are different this year that Kool is a leader, it’s just an element of doubt. So things might fall on Pfeiffer Georgi to get a result for Team DSM. The Brit was 15th last year but is in some major form in 2023 so far. A strong UAE Tour Women that saw her finish 3rd on Stage 2 whilst leading out Kool has been backed up with 5th at Omloop het Nieuwsblad and 9th at Strade Bianche.

It kinda feels like an age since Lotta Henttala was a winner at Gent Wevelgem Women. Plenty has changed since 2017 when the Finn took the top step ahead of Jolien d’Hoore and Coryn Labecki. Her confidence will be high after 4 top-10s already this season.
Also to note though is that Henttala was a late withdrawal from Brugge – De Panne due to illness.
Gent Wevelgem Women also sees the return of Ally Wollaston to the road peloton. The Kiwi has been doing plenty of track racing since the NZ national champs in mid-February, coming after an early win at the Schwalbe Classic in Australia in January. She should be Plan B behind Henttala but will be ready to step into her shoes if anything happens to her.

12th in last year’s race is encouraging for Arianna Fidanza who is just starting to blow hot and cold in recent races. She will take 4th place at Omloop het Hageland and then crash out of Le Samyn des Dames and finish outside of the time limit at Strade Bianche. It’s similar with two good results afterwards but then falling behind at Nokere Koerse and a DNF at Trofeo Alfredo Binda means it’s hard to tip the Italian for more than a top-10 finish.

There’s no Marianne Vos on the Gent Wevelgem Women startlist, so Coryn Labecki looks to be the team’s fastest finisher. Her 3rd place in the 2017 edition stands out, especially as her next best result was 23rd in 2019. At her best, the American should be fighting for a top-10 spot here but struggled just a touch on the climbs at Trofeo Alfredo Binda at the weekend so could be a sprinter distanced on the tough climb of the Kemmelberg.

Young Belgian Shari Bossuyt was 24th last year and will be hoping to improve on that. Especially as Gent Wevelgem Women comes off the back of her first Elites level victory on the final day in the Tour de Normandie Féminin. That win, Canyon SRAM’s first for over 300 days, will hopefully galvanise the team going forward. Maike van der Duin is also a fun wildcard, her 3rd place at Ronde van Drenthe showed what she can do and she returns to the road after racing on the track at the Cairo World Cup recently. Both of them were in the front group at Classic Brugge – De Panne this week too. Kasia Niewiadoma will probably be looking ahead to the following weekend but you can never write off the Pole. Her best finish in 4 editions is only 19th, back in 2017.

FDJ-Suez is hard to pick a leader for but the tactics should write themselves. There’s Grace Brown for a flier, her sustained power is perfect for that long section back to Wevelgem from the Kemmelberg. There’s always a chance she repeats the manner of her Brugge-De Panne win in 2021. So if it comes to a sprint, the team will be backing Clara Copponi. The French rider was 10th in last year’s race but is another who has been heavily on the track since the Australian part of the season so her road form is unclear. Marta Cavalli has finished 5th and 10th at Gent Wevelgem Women in the past – 2019 & 2020 – but is a different rider now. Back then she was a rider with similarities to Vittoria Guazzini now but has gone in the climbing punch direction. 13th at Trofeo Alfredo Binda was encouraging as she finds her feet in the bunch again. 

Maria Giulia Confalonieri
Maria Giulia Confalonieri

The injury curse is starting to hit Uno-X once again but they come here with Maria Giulia Confalonieri, last year’s 3rd place finisher. The Italian is ideally suited to these sorts of sprints that come at the end of hard races. She’s been good in 2023 so far with 4 top-10s and a near miss at Nokere Koerse. 2nd at Le Samyn des Dames was a strong result, beaten by Bastianelli who sat on her wheel.

There has been a lot of talk about Zaaf Cycling in the last week as rumours surround the team and their ability to pay their riders. Audrey Cordon-Ragot doesn’t have a great result to look back on here but that must be set against having to work for others in the past. She has returned to her absolute best after a tough off-season and has 6 top-10s already. 4th in GC at the Tour de Normandie Féminin also showed she is a consistent finisher.

Julie de Wilde developing into a real contender for these sorts of races. Strong 7th place finishes this year at Nokere Koerse and Omloop van het Hageland are surely teasers for a huge result that’s incoming this season. The young Belgian will surely improve on her 49th from last year’s race.

Lifeplus-Wahoo’s Margaux Vigie feels a bit of a sneaky pick here. I don’t think too many will have the French rider on their radar but she’s been finishing consistently well this season. A best placing of 5th on Stage 2 of the Tour de Normandie Féminin has been coming after finishing 7th at Le Samyn des Dames and in that 10th-20th place break in all her other races in 2023.

I keep tipping the Pole Daria Pikulik after watching the way she won Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under back in mid-January. That’s now 2 months ago now though and after a spell on the track, a pair of DNFs at Le Samyn des Dames and Ronde van Drenthe aren’t encouraging. If she makes it over the Kemmelberg in the front group then she has a great opportunity but I’m not convinced it will play out.

Tamara Dronova was 8th here last season in what was the first result that made us really take notice that there was more to come from the Russian. This season has been a bit harder though so far. It started off ok with 6th at Women Cycling Pro Costa de Almeria but her crash at the UAE Tour seems to have held her back a bit. 10th at Trofeo Oro in Euro was encouraging but then followed up with a DNF at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. It’s hard to know what to expect from Dronova at the moment.

This has surely got to be a Letizia Paternoster race for Jayco-AlUla, as much as I want Ruby Roseman-Gannon to do well. Paternoster was 3rd here back in 2019 and 10th the season before. 2023 is the first season since then where she’s been knocking on the door and looking close to that form again. 6th at Omloop van het Hageland, 9th at Ronde van Drenthe and 10th at Nokere Koerse are signs we’ll see the Italian back in the top-10 this year.

Gent-Wevelgem Women 2023 Outsiders

Karlijn Swinkels
Karlijn Swinkels

It wouldn’t be a race without seeing Karlijn Swinkels on the attack at the moment. Her move at Trofeo Alfredo Binda at the weekend was the latest in a series of attacks made this season. It’s working out well for the Dutch rider with finishes of 3rd on the final day of Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, 8th at Ronde van Drenthe and 11th at Omloop het Nieuwsblad.

Czech rider Kristyna Burlova has impressed a couple of times this season already but a pair of top-10s at the Tour de Normandie Féminin brought her to the fore again. Against this field, it remains to be seen if she has the legs left at the end of the race to sprint to a high finish but she’s one to watch for this year.

Cofidis’ Martina Alzini is another rider who did well at the Tour de Normandie Féminin, with a pair of 2nd places on her way to 3rd Overall. That came off the back of a 3rd place behind the Trek Segafredo duo up the road at Trofeo Oro in Euro as well. The test is whether the Italian reproduces those results in a WWT field.

Zaaf Cycling’s Mareille Meijering has had a good start to 2023 and is probably in contention as a rider who can crest the climbs and find herself in the front group of the race. From there, anything is possible. 10th in GC at the UAE Tour after a strong climb on Jebel Hafeet and staying out of trouble in the wind was good. 14th at Nokere Koerse shows that she will be a threat in these Belgian races as well.

Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Margot Vanpachtenbeke looks to be another rider set to come off their talent-spotting production line. New to this level after a strong national-level season last year, we’ve already seen her finished 12th in GC at Trofeo Ponente in Rosa – including 9th on the final stage. She was constantly on the attack in Normandy as well, where she finished 6th on Stage 2. It feels like a matter of time before a major result.

Top 3 Prediction

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