Ghent-Wevelgem falls in the middle of the week, sandwiched between
the opposing weekend races of the Tour
of Flanders on April 4 and Paris-Roubaix on April 11. As such,
this one-day Classic race is always in a bit of an odd situation.
While some of the leading riders choose to skip it in order to save
their legs for the more prestigious Paris-Roubaix, Ghent-Wevelgem
still usually features a nicely star-studded start list... but until
the race actually unfolds, it's impossible to tell which riders are
treating it as basically a training race, and which are there with
victory in mind.
2004's edition of Ghent-Wevelgem offers a solid example of what this
race is all about. The team to beat is clearly QuickStep-Davitamon,
whose riders are smarting after slipping up badly a few days earlier
in the Tour of Flanders. With a roster that includes Johann Museeuw
and his talented protege Tom Boonen as well as seasoned riders like
Servais Knaven, it's no wonder that young Boonen is the favorite to
win. T-Mobile's Steffen Wesemann, fresh off
his Tour of Flanders victory, has chosen to skip Ghent-Wevelgem, but
his teammate Andreas Klier carries the number "1" as last
year's winner. Other riders to watch include US Postal's George
Hincapie, also a former winner, and Magnus Backstedt from
Alessio-Bianchi. Co-commentator Paul Sherwen interviews a number of
riders before the race , giving viewers a nice review of who's who in
the race (though it would be nice if he'd interview
non-English-speaking riders as well.)
The early April weather is bitterly cold, and the addition of rain to
the mix makes it tough going for all the riders, who nonetheless put
in strong efforts to make breaks and keep them going. There are some
very intelligent tactical moves here; one of the most impressive
comes from Bodysol's Nico Mattan, who strikes boldly out from the
peloton to close a 30-second gap and join the leading breakaway
Ghent-Wevelgem is a mainly flat race, although breaks can and do form
on the flat, since the winding Belgian back roads make it easier for
a small group to slip out of sight of the main peloton. In fact, the
2004 edition gets off to an excellent start, with nice attacking
action and a strong breakaway group forming early on. The race route
takes the riders over the famous cobbled climb of the Kemmelberg
twice; this is normally a decisive break point for the race, but in
2004 it doesn't play out quite that way.
As the race heads into its last third, the dominance of the QuickStep
team comes into play, with six of their eight riders making it into
the leading group. The "blue train" is able to dictate the
pace, and nothing much of interest happens from the point at which
they take over, until the finish. The final few kilometers become
more interesting once again, as the rest of the breakaway, who have
wisely been "passengers" on the train, letting the
QuickStep riders tire themselves on the front, start to jockey for
position. The finish ends up in an exciting bunch sprint, with the
victory in contention right up to the very end.
The 2004 Ghent-Wevelgem DVD is a one-disc set, with the program
running approximately two hours. Viewers who are familiar with WCP's
releases may be wondering "Where's Het Volk?" since that
race is often paired with Ghent-Wevelgem. Well, in 2004 the Het Volk
was canceled due to inclement weather, so that's why it's not here.
It would have been nice if WCP had taken the opportunity to pair up
this race with another one, especially the Amstel Gold race which is
becoming ever more interesting, but this time we just get
Ghent-Wevelgem by itself. (Maybe we'll get Amstel Gold another
The video quality for the 2004 Ghent-Wevelgem race is quite solid,
with a generally clean, bright appearance. The image is entirely free
of noise, colors look natural, and both close-up and middle-distance
shots look reasonably detailed. Considering the rainy weather and
overcast skies, it's impressive that the race footage looks as good
as it does; clearly it doesn't look as crisp and sharp as a race on a
sunny day, but all in all, it does offer a very good viewing
experience. The race appears in its original television broadcast
aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The sound quality for the Ghent-Wevelgem race is excellent, with the
commentary from Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen coming across clearly
and crisply. The sounds of the race are also included in the
soundtrack, making a pleasing "you are there" feeling for
The only special feature is a complete start list of all the teams
and riders in the race, printed on the back of the DVD cover (and
visible through the clear case). It's a useful reference for viewers.
The overall menu design is clear and easy to navigate.
2004 Ghent-Wevelgem race offers cycle racing fans a solid Classic
race to add to their collection. There's quite a bit of exciting
racing in the first half of the race, and while the "blue train"
of QuickStep locks things down later in the race, we do get rewarded
in the end with an exciting bunch sprint. All in all, this edition of
Ghent-Wevelgem earns a solid "recommended."