In the Classics, everyone has a plan until the races shatter into shards in the crosswinds and the cobbles and climbs reveal who really is on form.
Fernando Gaviria started Gent-Wevelgem as UAE Team Emirates’ designated team leader but 250 tumultuous kilometres later he finished the afternoon playing the role of sweeper as his hitherto lead-out man Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory. It was a day that called for improvisation.
Gaviria showed his intentions early on by making the elite group of 21 riders that forged clear in the crosswinds near Gistel, home of Johan Museeuw. Favourites such as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) were among their number, and when their advantage stretched out to 1:20, it looked as though they might go all the way to the finish.
"He was clever," Viviani admitted of his former teammate Gaviria’s move.
"We just asked Fernando to get up there and give him a hand if he could,” Peiper said. "It showed great team spirit that Fernando could get up there and help, and then Alex brought it home. A sprint after 250k is what he’s really good at. At San Remo, even though it was only for 13th place, he put down big power in his sprint, so we knew that if he could repeat it here, he was going to be a player."
Good after 250km
Kristoff was not among the pre-race favourites, and his victory in Wevelgem owed as much to invention as to strength. Mindful of how he would struggle to follow the inevitable accelerations of men like Van Aert and Zdenek Stybar on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, the Norwegian opted to attack alone from the reduced peloton ahead of the climb. That canny move ensured that he remained in contention on the run-in.
The Norwegian has not been classed among the very top echelon of contenders since his victory in De Ronde in 2015, though he still placed in the top five in the following two years.