69th Gent-Wevelgem - PT
Belgium, April 11, 2007
T-Mobile control Gent-Wevelgem finale
23 year-old Marcus Burghardt nabbed his first professional win in Gent-Wevelgem thanks to perfect team work by T-Mobile. The young German took the Semi-Classic win in front his British team-mate, Roger Hammond. The duo formed part of the winning move of five when, at 26 kilometres to go, Burghardt bridged to an early escape which included Hammond. The two T-Mobile men had to contend with three-time World Champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank), who formed part of the move with Francisco José Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Christophe Mengin (Française Des Jeux).
"I wasn't intending to sprint with Freire," Burghardt said. With Gent-Wevelgem Burghardt grabs his first professional victory, "and immediately a ProTour race. This is the biggest moment of my career," he said.
Burghardt is a hot prospect for all the classics, he finished third in the E3-Prijs Harelbeke this year as well. "In Harelbeke I had too much respect for Boonen and Cancellara. This time I showed just enough respect," Burghardt said.
"For a moment I thought we wouldn't make it but suddenly we had 50 seconds. When the finish was coming closer I realized I had to attack as I wasn't intending to sprint with Freire," Burghardt explained. "These last weeks have been grandiose for me, certainly if you compare them with last year when I was injured. This year, I trained even harder than last year to perform to my best."
When Burghardt attacked with one kilometre to go, the rest of the break hesitated. It was up to Freire to try to bring the tall German back, but he could not close the gap down, discouraged by the shadow of Hammond. Hammond jumped Freire in the final metres to make for a T-Mobile one-two. "I think I made a mistake in the last kilometre, because I thought Ventoso was strong," said Freire. "I thought to wait for the first attack then go with the second attack but I made a mistake and, of course, T-Mobile rode strong."
Freire was hoping to become the first Spaniard to win in Wevelgem, and his disappointment was clear on the podium. "I was very good in the last kilometres. It was difficult, with five or six riders, it is a lottery. Also with T-mobile, it was difficult." As a consolation, Freire move into the overall ProTour lead. The winner of Milano-Sanremo in March was presented the white jersey by UCI President Pat McQuaid after the finish.
The chasing peloton, which was actively led by Quick-Step for Tom Boonen, was led home by Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto). The Aussie sprinted clear of Max Van Heeswijk (Rabobank), just a few seconds behind Ventoso and Mengin.
Regarding this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, Burghardt said, "It has a different character and it is sixty kilometres longer. I am certainly motivated; I have loads of confidence. T-Mobile will be good in France, as we also have Bernhard Eisel, who did well last year."
How it unfolded
It was a cloudy in Deinze where 193 took the start for the 69th edition of Gent-Wevelgem. Light winds meant that an echelon race in the 'Moeren' – a flat open part close to the coast – would be unlikely. Forty riders were visited by the doctor this morning, all were declared fit to start, however Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati did not start due to stomach problems.
Wouter Van Mechelen (Landbouwkrediet) was the first to attack after just four kilometres of racing, but he wasn't allowed to get away. During the first 15 kilometres, there were more attacks from Jimmy Engoulvent, Markel Irizar and Wouter Van Mechelen, but nothing went clear. Philippe Gilbert won the first intermediate sprint in Pittem ahead of Eric Baumann and Grégory Rast.
Good weather meant that the speed in the peloton was consistently high, with riders trying to break away repeatedly. Birthday boy Kevin Hulsmans was sufferign dizziness, and abandoned the race after 27 kilometres. In the first hour, the peloton covered an astonishing 49 kilometres, and still riders were trying to break free. David Boucher's attempt lasted only one kilometre, and it wasn't until French champion Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne), Christophe Mengin (Française Des Jeux) and Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) attacked that the breakaway would have any success.
The three leaders quickly gained two minutes on the bunch, and by the time they reached the coast in Oostende, the lead had ballooned to more than seven minutes, reaching a maximum at 10'50" with 100 kilometres to go. However, as soon as the riders turned back towards Wevelgem, the peloton awoke and the gap started to come down quickly. As the race approached the main difficulties, the Vidaigneberg, the Rode Berg, Monteberg and finally the cobbled Kemmelberg climbs, the gap was brought down to five minutes.
More fast, nervous racing inflicted more crashes on a battle-heardened peloton, and leading into the hilly section, Servais Knaven (T-Mobile) and Danish champion Allan Johansen, crashed, the latter flying over his handle bars into the ditch; meanwhile Tomas Vaitkus abandoned the race. While the leaders passed the top of the Kemmelberg for the first time with Brard safely leading the group, the peloton behind was not so lucky. Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval) led the peloton on the cobbles with Burghardt, Boonen and Nuyens following closely behind the Spanish rider, but over the top of the Kemmelberg, all hell broke lose.
On the cobbled descent, a water bottle was jarred loose, and a Gerolsteiner rider swerved to avoid it, causing a crash that left Unibet's Jimmy Casper lying on the cobbles with blood pouring down his face. As riders braked to avoid Casper, several more nasty crashes occured, taking out Wim De Vocht (Predictor), Tyler Farrar (Cofidis), Luke Roberts (CSC), Wilfried Cretskens (Quickstep), Andy Cappelle (Landbouwkrediet) and Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner).
The first part of the peloton didn't wait for news about their colleagues and a group of ten riders including Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Kevin Van Impe (Quickstep) and Leukemans forged ahead in pursuit of the leaders, but Milram brought the chasing peloton back together for Alessandro Petacchi. Two riders then went clear on the Monteberg, Dmitriy Muravyev and last year's number two David Kopp, but Muravyev realized it was a mission impossible, and went back to the bunch.
On the second ascent of the Kemmelberg, the leading trio of Brard, Hammond and Mengin had just over two minutes on the peloton, which was closing in on Kopp. Near the top, the Gerolsteiner rider was caught by the bunch, led again by Ventoso, Burghardt, Boonen and all the favourites who were wisely staying up front for safety. Once again, disaster struck on the descent of the Kemmelberg. Another bottle hit the ground, and this time took down Fabio Sacchi (Milram). Aart Vierhouten (Skil) braked to avoid the Italian, lost control and slid down the cobbles, and was followed to the ground by Matthew Hayman (Rabobank).
Once again, the leaders took this opportunity to try to make a move, and Burghardt and Ventoso opened up a gap with 30km to go. They were joined by thirteen riders: Grégory Rast (Astana) and Igor Abakoumov (Astana), Robbie McEwen (Predictor), Joaquin Rojas Gil, Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Stuart O'Grady (CSC), Boonen and Wouter Weylandt, Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Eric Baumann (T-Mobile) and Baden Cooke (Unibet), now just one minute shy of the leaders.
The Spanish riders must've been feeling particularly strong, because out of this group, Freire attacked again and was joined by Ventoso and Burghardt. With the lanky German sitting on in defense of Hammond up ahead, Freire and Ventoso did much of the work to close the gap, but when the trio closed in on the lead riders, Ventoso attacked, bridged up to the group and went straight to the front, leaving Freire alone with Burghardt. Sensing the danger of missing out on a chance to join his team-mate, Burghardt put in the last bit of gas needed for Freire and himself to make the break six.
The six men in front fought hard for every second on the peloton, and with 16km to go the lead was still about half a minute on a peloton led by Quickstep and CSC. With fresh energy in the break, the tough pace caused Brard's legs to give out, and he had to let go of the five other riders in front. A bit of disorganisation in peloton allowed the break's gap to grow up to 45".
Hammond and Burghardt put a lot of effort into the move, as did Freire, who was anxious to see a sprint. In the final five kilometres Freire could be seen judging up Ventoso, who started skipping pulls. The Spaniard of Saunier Duval helped form the winning move, and looked to be the one to present Freire with the most problems. Instead it was solid teamwork by Germany-based T-mobile.
As the group approached the one kilometre to go banner, Ventoso tried to ride Burghardt off the back of the break. But the powerful young German bided his time, and as Ventoso reconsidered his tactic and closed the gap, Burghardt launched his winning move. When Freire jumped it was too late; Burghardt already had a sizable gap, and Hammond was wisely on the wheel of the three-time World Champion. Burghardt got his first professional win, minus the Metas Volantes competition in the Ruta del Sol, ahead of Hammond, making for a T-mobile one-two.