Just when Sagan looked like he had the legs to take his second consecutive Gent-Wevelgem and that the German and his team had miscalculated things, Degenkolb found an extra gear to overhaul the Cannondale rider. Through the joy, there was also an element of relief to have just made it to the finish.
"The final was very hectic. There was a big crash with 8km to go, when Farrar and Greipel were there. I just saw Farrar lying there, with his hands protecting his head. I could just come through the crash, I was lucky not to crash," Degenkolb said after the race.
The Giant-Shimano rider found himself behind one of the many crashes, which took out Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), but some hard work from his teammates saw him back in contention for the final sprint. "We had to close a gap. In the end, we could catch back the breakaway, they were strong and holding the gap. Koen de Kort dropped me on Sagan's wheel.
"Today, everything went 100 percent better for me than last week. I am very happy to win this race."
Degenkolb has been on very good form this season, with four victories already and the points classification at Paris-Nice. However, this win seemed to be a big monkey off his back. His teammate, and lead-out man, De Kort was acutely aware of the significance of the victory for Degenkolb. "I think that this is a little bit of revenge for Milan-San Remo, because if he didn't have the puncture then who knows what could have happened," he told Cyclingnews at the finish.
The German was one of the big favourites to take the title at Milan-San Remo, but punctured in the final kilometres, therefore losing the opportunity to contest the bunch sprint. The pain was still evident as he spoke about it to the press a week after the event.
"It's been a long time since I was sitting on the bike and tears came out of my eyes. That was such a big disappointment. The next two or three days after that was a bitter pill to swallow," he said. "You prepare the whole winter for that one race, and you know you have the legs to be there, that you're strong enough, then something like that happens in the end, that is not your decision."
Talk in the press conference quickly turned to the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. Degenkolb secured a career best result in Flanders last year with ninth. In the past, he has taken third and sixth in the U23 race.
With Degenkolb looking so strong over the past few weeks, the whispers of what he could do at the Tour of Flanders continue to get louder. He has been climbing very well and out-sprinting Sagan today will only serve to bump him up the list of favourites. Degenkolb was a little more circumspect about his chances next Sunday, although it will do little to abate the chatter.
"You cannot compare today to Flanders. Today, the breakaway went away early, but it was perfect training for next week, with a hard race and a difficult finish. I'm still not in top shape. The favourites are Sagan, Cancellara, Boonen. The way Fabian came back at Harelbeke shows just how good he is.
"I'm going to go 100 percent on Sunday. It's the Ronde, it's one of the biggest races in the world. I'd love to make a good result there. I am not a favourite yet. I don't mind the rain, but I hope it is not cold. This is my fourth Flanders. I am still learning. The big key to these races is to get the experience. I am only 25. I hope I can keep improving."
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