John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) sprinted to victory at Gent-Wevelgem ahead of Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) after a high-speed, hectic race on the hills and WW1 battle fields of Flanders. Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) placed fourth, followed by Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in fifth in the sprint but a crash took down Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) in the final kilometres.
The two climbs of the Kemmelberg did little to test the favourites and only a late attack by Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing), Silvan Dillier (BMC) and Andrey Amador (Movistar) almost spoilt the sprinters' party. However the move was neutralised inside the final two kilometres by a peloton approximately 40 strong. Everyone seemed to think they could win, sparking a trail of crashes but while Sagan hit out too early and Demare left it a little late, Degenkolb opened his sprint at the right moment and won in style.
Degenkolb blew kisses to the television camera as he celebrated his victory. "This is one of the really big Classics and I'm very happy to get this victory," he said.
"This is the next step in my career. I won Hamburg and that's a WorldTour race but with respect to it, this is a big, big race. It's great to win here."
How it happened
The conditions at the start of the 76th edition of Gent-Wevelgem, in Deinze were in stark contrast with those from last year.
Last year riders got back in the their team buses after signing on and then drove to Gistel due to the snow covering many roads. This time around temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius plus nearly no wind created an enjoyable start setting for the peloton. Knowing that the wind would not result in echelons at the feared flatlands of the Moeren made most riders very relaxed.
Straight from the start five riders attacked with no reaction from the peloton. The riders in the early breakaway move were Sebastian Lander (BMC), Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo), Marcel Aregger (IAM), Jaco Venter (MTN-Qhubeka) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Robert). In less than an hour of racing the five had a lead of ten minutes on the peloton where Frederik Willems (Lotto-Belisol) set a steady pace for more than 100km.
When reaching the first climb of the day in France, the Mont Cassel, after 115km of racing the gap was down to eight minutes. During the 40km-long French passage the gap continued to fall and when heading back into Belgium 85km from the finish – two climbs later – the leaders had only 5:30 left on the peloton.
The emphasis of the hill zone was the trio of climbs comprised of the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg with all to be completed two times. The leaders reached the zone three minutes up on the peloton and during the first loop Lander was dropped up front as Boaro and Veuchelen set a fierce pace.
Meanwhile, a pair of crashes in the peloton knocked some pre-race favourites out of contention. The first incident before the Kemmelberg took out Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) and on the roads following the Monteberg Ian Stannard (Sky) ended up in the ditch. Both Ventoso and Stannard would be brought to the hospital as a result of their crashes.
Some riders anticipated the second loop and launched an attack. Silvan Dillier (BMC), Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale), Andrey Grivko (Astana) and Antonio Parrinello (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) jumped away and took half a minute on the peloton.
When starting the second loop of climbs the sun disappeared and so did most of the leaders. Boaro immediately attacked and led the race solo. The rest of the former lead group were quickly swept up by the four counter-attackers. The pace increased in the peloton and at the back Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was struggling hard, seemingly in no shape to battle for the victory this Sunday afternoon.
In the run-up towards the Kemmelberg there was a big crash at the back of the peloton with Christopher Sutton (Team Sky) the biggest casualty. Boaro survived the Kemmelberg in front of the peloton where Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) led the peloton up the climb. Pre-race favourites Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) were all in the front of the peloton as well.
Eighteen riders separated themselves from the peloton over the iconic cobbled climb with André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) surprisingly surviving the cut. More riders managed to bridge back up to the first group before the Monteberg. At the top of the Monteberg the final breakaway rider, Boaro, was finally caught. With 35km to go most of the sprinters featured in the front of the race and there was little time left for attackers to prevent a field sprint finale. Cancellara, Sagan and Boonen all took pulls in front but no more damage was done. The race looked set for a high-speed sprint finish.
With 30km to go it was clear that about 80 riders were still in the mix for the win with the bulk of the work in the peloton shared by BMC, Lotto-Belisol and Garmin-Sharp. Then Devolder dragged the late attack clear, setting up for the dramatic finale. Degenkolb avoided the crashes and chaos to find the best line to the finish and so add his name to the rich list of former winners.
|1||John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano||5:34:37|
|2||Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|3||Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale|
|4||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team|
|5||Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team|
|6||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|7||Alexey Tsatevich (Rus) Team Katusha|
|8||Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) AG2R La Mondiale|
|9||Thor Hushovd (Nor) BMC Racing Team|
|10||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Belisol|
|11||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha|
|12||Sam Bennett (Irl) Team NetApp - Endura|
|13||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar|
|14||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|15||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team|
|16||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|17||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN - Qhubeka|
|18||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|19||Boy van Poppel (Ned) Trek Factory Racing|
|20||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team|
|21||Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Spa) Movistar Team|
|22||Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|23||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky|
|24||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team Sky|
|25||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|26||Yoann Offredo (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|27||Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|28||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|29||Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN - Qhubeka||0:00:04|
|30||Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida||0:00:06|
|31||Koen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano|
|32||Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team||0:00:09|
|33||Oscar Gatto (Ita) Cannondale||0:00:10|
|34||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|35||Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert||0:00:16|
|36||Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|37||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica GreenEdge||0:00:19|
|38||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing|
|39||Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Belisol|
|40||Grégory Rast (Swi) Trek Factory Racing|
|41||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team|
|42||Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Team Katusha|
|43||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|44||Michael Morkov (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|45||Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Garmin Sharp|
|46||Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|47||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky|
|48||Steve Chainel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|49||Damien Gaudin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|50||Bram Tankink (Ned) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team|
|51||Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky|
|52||Roger Kluge (Ger) IAM Cycling|
|53||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Team Giant-Shimano||0:00:27|
|54||Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Team NetApp - Endura|
|55||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto Belisol|
|56||Mickael Delage (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|57||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team|