After his Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte narrowly missed out on the win in Gent-Wevelgem to the history-making Biniam Girmay ((Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Wout Van Aert said that the race had gone to plan until those final 250 metres.
The Belgian, who was aggressive at various points during the 249km race, including an attack on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, said that Jumbo-Visma raced to their plan of getting a rider up the road in the final.
"I think we raced how we wanted," he said after finishing. "Maybe I didn't have the legs of Friday. But still we raced aggressively, and we tried to go for the win all together.
"Setting up Christophe in the final in a small group was actually our game plan or Tiesj [Benoot] or someone else. It was a perfect situation and it's just a pity we missed out on the win.
"I felt good myself and the team was also good. Maybe I had hoped to make a big more of a difference. Maybe I wasn't top notch, but we were 'at the meeting'. Laporte had a good chance of winning, so it made sense that we protected the attackers."
Van Aert had earlier been active at various points during the race, most notably on the final time up the Kemmelberg – the steepest way up named Ossuaire. He dragged away an elite group of contenders over the top, but after a drawn-out chase on the following flats, the leaders and chasers merged ahead of an expected sprint finish.
"It's a really hard climb but it's not really long so the gaps that are made are small," Van aert said. "I think we organised quite well immediately but of course there's a lot of teams with interest for the sprint. I think they organised even faster and there was no chance to stay away."
Van Aert, who could only that he was "tired" in response to a question about next week's Tour of Flanders, also took time to praise Girmay, who became the first African rider to win a Classic.
The 21-year-old was a silver medallist in the Leuven Worlds U23 road race last autumn, and has made a rapid progression this spring, winning the Trofeo Alcúdia at the Mallorca Challenge and placing fifth at Friday's E3 Saxo Bank Classic.
"It's really big," Van Aert said of Girmay's achievement. "Of course, in the last weeks there was some talk about him but winning a Classic like this is another step forward. It seems like he's taking steps every day so it's impressive and congrats to him.
"But big chapeau to him. When I look at the sprint like this, Laporte is not beaten because he is less fast. He seems to be surprised by the jump [from behind]."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.