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Laporte endures a different kind of second at Gent-Wevelgem

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 27 LR Biniam Hailu Girmay of Eritrea and Team Intermarch Wanty Gobert Matriaux Dries Van Gestel of Belgium and Team Total Energies Jasper Stuyven of Belgium and Team Trek Segafredo and Christophe Laporte of France and Team Jumbo Visma compete in the breakaway during the 84th GentWevelgem in Flanders Fields 2022 Mens Elite a 2488km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem GWE22 WorldTour on March 27 2022 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) in the breakaway group that contested the victory at Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: Tim de WaeleGetty Images)

If second place at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday felt like half a victory for Christophe Laporte, then the same position at Gent-Wevelgem two days later tasted rather more like defeat.

In Harelbeke, Laporte had accompanied Jumbo-Visma teammate Wout van Aert on his triumphal march from the Paterberg all the way to the finish line. Here, he was deployed as the Belgian champion's advance party with 24km remaining, but he found himself contesting victory after his four-man group built a winning advantage on the run-in to Wevelgem.

Laporte was perhaps careless in allowing himself to be manoeuvred into leading out the sprint on Vanackerestraat, but he also had the misfortune of having Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) for company in the winning move.

The 21-year-old unleashed a sprint of striking force with a little under 250 metres remaining, immediately opening a decisive gap over Laporte. The Frenchman battled to get back on terms, but he had to settle for second place as Girmay claimed an historic Classic victory for Eritrea.

"I felt good and I really thought I could win," Laporte said when he paused in the mixed zone afterwards.

"Girmay went from quite long in the sprint, there was a gap immediately and I realised it would be hard to close it. I managed to close at the end but I wasn't able to get past. It's a real disappointment."

While Laporte's dismay was palpable, he seemed less certain as to whether he had made a mistake in his management of the finale. He has been in this game long enough, of course, to know that the winner is always right, and the defeated are usually open to criticism.

"I don't know if I made an error or not, but in any case, I didn't win so that doesn't make a difference now," said Laporte, who came to the finish with Girmay, Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo).

"I felt capable of winning, but a four-man sprint isn't straightforward to manage, it was risky. I found myself in front under the flamme rouge and nobody wanted to come past. I was maybe the marked man because of E3 on Friday. It wasn't the best situation, you can control things better from behind."

Laporte was reluctant to open his sprint from distance due to the light headwind in the finishing straight, and he was caught flat footed by Girmay's smart acceleration. The opportunity had passed him by.

"I saw the 250-metre-to-go banner and with this headwind, I thought that was a bit far. I thought I could come back, but he took a good advantage," Laporte said. "I came back a bit in the end, but it was too late."

Sparing Van Aert for sprint

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 27 Biniam Hailu Girmay of Eritrea and Team Intermarch Wanty Gobert Matriaux celebrates winning ahead of Christophe Laporte of France and Team Jumbo Visma Dries Van Gestel of Belgium and Team Total Energies and Jasper Stuyven of Belgium and Team Trek Segafredo during the 84th GentWevelgem in Flanders Fields 2022 Mens Elite a 2488km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem GWE22 WorldTour on March 27 2022 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Laporte crossed the line in second behind the celebrating Girmay (Image credit: Tim de WaeleGetty Images)

Van Aert lined up as the obvious favourite for Gent-Wevelgem after already annexing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem this spring, and his Jumbo-Visma guard once again gave the distinct impression that they were the strongest team in the race.

The relatively calm conditions, however, meant that the race did not ignite as early as last year's breathless edition.

Even so, Jumbo-Visma were prominent at every critical moment, and Van Aert even forged clear alone on the final time up the Kemmelberg, where – like on the Paterberg on Friday – Laporte was the man who came closest to being able to match him.

When the race regrouped over the other side, Jumbo-Visma looked to send men up the road rather than try to keep the front group together on Van Aert's behalf.

"We wanted a hard race and we weren't the only ones because Bahrain and other teams made the race hard too," Laporte said.

"Wout got away on the last time up the Kemmelberg, and when it came back together, we had the plan to save Wout for a possible sprint by creating movement. The idea was to put the team in a good position, so that Wout and the others wouldn't have to ride behind.

"The team did great work and I couldn't finish it off. It's not every day that you have a chance like that. I don't think this is the Flemish Classic that suits me the best. It's the one where I've had my best results, but this also one of the biggest disappointments."

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.