The early breakaway move in a race rarely survives until the finish at the spring Classics, but a strong wind during the passage through the wide-open fields at De Moeren decided differently at Gent-Wevelgem. While the front group contained several Classics favourites, a number of riders mostly famous for their sprinting abilities making the cut only added to the surprise.
One of them was European champion Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka Assos). The 32-year-old Italian finished as runner-up behind Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), sprinting from the rear of a seven-man lead group to grab second ahead of Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates).
“Van Aert was strong all day. He’s a great champion. Today he was the strongest,” Nizzolo said when entering the mixed zone in Wevelgem.
Nizzolo is known to be a classy bunch sprinter but it'll come as a surprise to many that he’s still pursuing his first stage victory in a Grand Tour. Last year, he won the 2020 European Championships, by far his biggest career victory. Surely, this podium result in Gent-Wevelgem will be cherished, too.
“I was always confident that I could do it. I was always getting better and better. It’s nice to be up here and I look forward to the next ones,” Nizzolo said.
“It was a very hard race. The bunch split very early. We had a good collaboration from the start. We kept going well.”
Part of the course took in a tough hilly section featuring the famous steep cobbled Kemmelberg climb three times. On the final ascent, Nizzolo looked in trouble as Van Aert set a hard pace, but the Italian managed to recover and quickly regain contact with the group.
“For me, the final ascent of the Kemmelberg for sure was on the limit. After such a hard race it’s also hard to make the difference. After a high tempo all day it’s not easy to accelerate.”
In the sprint for the line, Nizzolo positioned himself at the back of the group of seven riders, eventually making his way past everybody in the group, except Van Aert.
Clearly Nizzolo – who has won the Clásica de Almería and finished fourth at the Classic Brugge-De Panne so far in 2021 – was content with his first podium at one of the Belgian classics although a sprinter can’t be happy with a second place.
“In the sprint I decided to take it from the last position. I don’t know if it was the best decision. I have to look back at the sprint. I did my best. First I planned to position myself in third place but then I decided to drop back in the last position and check from behind. In the end, it was tailwind. I don’t know if it was the right decision.”
Nizzolo will continue his spring Classics campaign at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday before the Tour of Flanders on Sunday and then Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix – if the race goes ahead.
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