There wasn't much to do against the domination of young Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in the 75th edition of Gent-Wevelgem. Team Sky tried their best to reach out for the win in the Belgian Spring classic but fell short. The team's Norwegian champion Edvald Boasson Hagen tried with an acceleration on the cobbled Kemmelberg climb but was countered by the Slovakian winner. Former winner Bernard Eisel featured in the decisive 11-man breakaway move but failed to repeat his 2010 victory in the Sky jersey on Sunday afternoon.
Right after the start - which was in Gistel instead of Deinze due to the cold weather conditions - Eisel featured in the first of several echelons which were formed due to the cold crosswinds. Later, when the riders entered the hill zone at the Belgian-French border, Eisel was riding attentively near the front of the race too. Shortly before hitting the final batch of three climbs Eisel reacted on an attack from Heinrich Haussler (IAM). At the finish the Austrian rider talked Cyclingnews through his race.
"I was in a second group that went to the front. At a certain point we saw it split. We just kept riding," Eisel said, describing how the breakaway was formed. The peloton got back on their heels just before the Baneberg climb but over there it split again.
"We kept the pace high and that was it. It ended up being the decisive move which would battle for the victory."
Finishing the job isn't easy and having the in-form fast man Sagan in the group didn't make Eisel's task easier. Having another rapid finisher like Boasson Hagen in the peloton allowed Eisel to skip doing most of the work in the group.
"In the end it was clear the peloton was not going to come back. For me it was easy because I had fast guys behind me. I was up there in the group. I didn't work. Sometimes I went to the front to keep up the tempo. That went nicely until they started attacking and that was the last thing I wanted. In the last eight kilometres we slowed down because we started playing around. I said that was fine for me. If we got caught then we got caught."
The attacks were flying around in the group and right after a powerful move from Stijn Vandenbergh, it was top favourite Sagan who sneaked away with four kilometres to go.
"There was no way. I went straight away with [Greg] Van Avermaet. Greg did a nice pull. We tried to catch him but there was no way. We had [Yaroslav] Popovych on the wheel who didn't do anything. That was probably our only chance to do something."
Eventually Eisel and the rest of the group focused on the remaining podium spots. The unique chance to get a second Gent-Wevelgem victory was gone. "Yeah probably," Eisel sighed. "Oh, but it was just a tough race. I think there was no way to beat Sagan. He's just an incredible rider. Chapeau for him."
When heading towards the final kilometre Eisel set the pace in the group. "I just tried not to lose time and keep it together for the sprint. I knew it was a headwind and you had to wait. I knew I can sprint them out if I came out quick," Eisel said.
Sky teammates rolled up to the Austrian to ask how he was. Eisel apologized for not finishing the job and said he probably finished fourth or fifth. It ended up being seventh though Eisel felt he was hindered by a move from left to right from Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ). "Ladagnous is not just staying in the middle of the road."
Team Sky and Eisel get a new chance to go for glory in the spring classics next week at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. One week later there's Paris-Roubaix, the cobbled classic in which the Austrian tends to go well too.