The Scheldeprijs is often pictured as the sprinter’s world championships for spring Classics, but the finish is often the scene of horrific crashes too. The 2020 fall edition of the oldest Flanders race wasn’t any different. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) dominated the sprint, but behind him there was chaos.
In the closing 100 metres to the finish in Schoten, Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was boxed in and abruptly swerved from left to right through a hole that wasn’t there, taking August Jensen’s (Riwal Securitas) front wheel with him in the move and sending Jensen to the group, along with others.
Ackermann appeared to finish as the runner-up behind Ewan, but was relegated after the race jury watched the replay of the sprint. Pierre Barbier (Nippo Delko Provence) also crashed, and Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain McLaren) was spotted going over the handlebars in the collision.
Jensen seemed to be knocked out for a short time, but sat up to talk with medical support. Shortly after the race his Danish team said on Twitter, “The Norwegian is doing okay under the circumstances.”
Garcia Cortina, who was expected to be one of the Bahrain McLaren team leaders for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, received a big knock as well. His status is still to be confirmed by the team.
As the first three riders across the line - Ewan, Ackermann and Niccolò Bonifazio (Total Direct Énergie) - were led to a tent to prepare for the podium ceremony, a race official informed Ackermann that he was no longer needed.
“I have no idea why. The man just told me to get out,” Ackermann, who won two stages at Tirreno-Adriatico in September, said when he walked back to his bike. He then watched some TV footage on the big screen but didn’t bother to wait for a replay of the sprint.
Bonifazio was moved to second in the official results after Ackermann’s punishment, while Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) took third place. Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) was fourth, Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) fifth.
Bora-Hansgrohe sports directeur Steffen Radochla had a different recollection of the incident.
"This was clearly miss-judged from the jury. Pascal found a hole and launched his sprint without touching any rider. Unfortunately, one guy touched his back wheel then and took a fall. But this was a racing incident we see quite often. From my view this is simply the wrong decision. It’s a pity for Pascal but also for all the other guys as they did a really good job today in the finale," Radochia said in a team statement.
Jensen didn’t understand the reaction from Radochla. “If I’m the one to blame then that comes as a surprise to me. I can’t say if the jury was right or wrong to relegate him. All I know is that I was very well positioned and headed for a great result. I don’t have that result now,” Jensen told Cyclingnews.
Jensen was treated on site and later told Cyclingnews that he must have lost consciousness for a second or two when hitting the ground.
“I’m a bit bruised and battered and I probably have a concussion. I only remember parts of the course we’ve done ten times so my memory is selective. I don’t remember the sprint too well but I’ve watched it on the screen now. It’s a sprint incident. Ackermann is a great sprinter and he can dive into a hole if it’s there. Sometimes these sprints look different on TV but from what I saw I think he moved too quickly from left to right,” Jensen said to Cyclingnews.
One Bora-Hansgrohe rider stood out though for doing a really good job and that was Rüdiger Selig. After his lead out was done, he dropped back in the peloton and when he rode by Jensen. He immediately stopped and tried to help.
“That’s a gesture I appreciate enormously from a rider. Sadly enough, I don’t remember him being there though,” Jensen later said.
The 29-year-old Norwegian rider was scheduled to race the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne next week. “I’ll have to see about that. There's still one week to go so right now, I’m positive that I have a chance to participate there.”
The Danish Riwal-Securitas team aims to be selected for the Tour de France grand départ in Copenhagen for 2022. Their so-called Nordic fighters certainly gained visibility from their participation in the Scheldeprijs, including a solid show by Piotr Havik on Wednesday.
Havik featured in the long breakaway move together with Mark Cavendish and others. The 26-year-old Dutch rider ended up being the last rider from the breakaway to survive, being caught by the peloton with 8km to go. Despite the crash at the end, the team still managed to place Arvid de Kleijn in the top 10.
Off the podium grumbling
At a short distance from Ackermann there was another sprint incident with Belgian riders Merlier and Philipsen. Clearly unhappy about how the race unfolded, Merlier made gestures to show his annoyance once crossing the finish.
“Once again I was unable to ride my sprint. The team delivered me in a great position but it was too early to start my sprint. At 350 metres from the line, the train from UAE passed by and I received a knock that nearly brought me down. It made me lose too much speed. Then Ewan blasted by. Then I knew it was over. Then I was boxed in too.
“It’s frustrating. You know you’ve got the legs to win it and you’re not able to show it. That’s sprinting I guess,” Merlier said after the race in the mixed zone.
Philipsen also stated his displeasure with his fifth-place finish, just behind Merlier.
“Alexander [Kristoff] did a perfect lead-out for me. They boxed me in on the left-hand side. I was in a great position and should’ve started my sprint earlier. They shut the door on me. I’m not happy about the result,” said Philipsen, who will drop down to ProTeam level in 2021 and ride with Alpecin-Fenix on a two-year deal.
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