Sometimes, even at WorldTour level, the effort is its own reward. Matteo Trentin wore a broad smile on arriving at the Mitchelton-Scott bus following Gent-Wevelgem, even if his own 7th place in a sprint won by Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) felt a scant recompense for his aggressive showing across the day.
Trentin was part of a determined echelon that forged clear at the end of the first hour of racing, and he later joined Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in a group of five that led over the final ascent of the Kemmelberg before being swept up in the finale. At the end of a tumultuous afternoon, the Italian somehow conjured the strength to sprint for the win in Wevelgem, even if his legs could only carry him so far after a relentless five-and-a-half hours of racing.
“It was a pretty much crazy race, old school,” Trentin told Cyclingnews as he gingerly took a seat on the steps of his team bus. By this point, his legs could carry him no further.
Talk at the start in Deinze on Sunday morning dwelt on how a headwind in the finale might favour a bunch finish but failed to predict how that same breeze would rip the race at the seams after the road swung left at Gistel after 50 kilometres. Trentin was among the echelon of 21 riders that formed under the impetus of Jumbo-Visma and Trek-Segafredo, and the European champion was never far from the front over the breathless 200 kilometres that followed.
“Trek and Jumbo-Visma, they put the hammer down after I think 45k, but you’ll need to check that, I didn’t even see my Garmin. I don’t know, they just accelerated,” Trentin said. “I was one of the last riders across to that. And from then it was just race on. Because when you are in the crosswind, you just go. Behind they were a bit disorganised and we got a gap.”
Deceuninck-QuickStep have been the dominant force on the cobbles thus far this season, but only one of their number – Tim Declercq, a man paid to shift the piano rather than tinkle the ivories – made the front echelon. As a result, Trentin feared the move might have been doomed from the outset, but the men in blue initially chose to leave the pace-setting to CCC and Lotto Soudal.
“I was thinking fuck, the only guys who have to be here are not, because for sure they will close it down, but I think they were also in trouble,” Trentin said. “I heard on the radio that Lotto Soudal and CCC were chasing. Maybe if we had one of them in our group, it was race over, or at least QuickStep would have had to ride. But you never know, afterwards it’s always like playing Cycling Manager…”
Attacking with Sagan
The average speed after two hours was an eye-watering 52kph, and the racing was relentless thereafter. The front group collaborated smoothly – “Everybody was committed because when it’s hard like this, it’s not much easier in the back,” Trentin explained – building an advantage of 1:20 that the chasers were struggling to close.
When the buffer closed to within a minute in the final 70km, Trentin clipped away with Sagan, Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) and Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo). This quartet led through the narrow, dirt roads of the Plugstreets, and extended their margin back out to a minute when Luke Rowe (Team Sky) bridged across to provide reinforcements.
Come the second ascent of the Kemmelberg, with 30km to go, Trentin et al still had 52 seconds in hand, but searing accelerations from Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) made significant inroads into their buffer. “I think that was the slowest Kemmel I’ve ever done,” Trentin grinned.
Inch by painful inch, Deceuninck-QuickStep clawed back the rest of their advantage over the other side, and the group was finally caught just past Ypres, with 18km remaining. “It was a good attack, but maybe we just needed a couple of extra guys or Rowe with us straight away,” Trentin said.
With no one team in a position to bring order to an unruly leading group, various splits formed on the run-in, including one featuring Trentin’s teammate Jack Bauer, but ultimately, 35 or so weary riders to contest the victory on Menenstreet. Not so much a bunch sprint as a punch-drunk one. Trentin laughed heartily as he imagined how the spectacle must have looked from the outside.
“There were people sprinting, leading out and coming back, people in the middle of the road. It was pretty much a shit sprint,” he joked. “I couldn’t even sprint at the end and I was 7th or 8th, I think, but I’m quite happy with that. And I think the race was nice for the people.”