Paolini wins Gent-Wevelgem

Luca Paolini (Katusha) took a solo win at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday after rain and strong winds turned the race into a battle of survival, and a battle of the strongest Classic riders in the peloton.

The Italian veteran escaped from a breakaway just five kilometres from the finish and took the win 11 seconds ahead of chasers Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). They were part of the move of the day that gradually emerged as the wind took its toll on the race. Stijn Vandenbergh was also there for Etixx-Quickstep, along with Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Daniel Oss (BMC) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal). Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) made a brave solo stack for much of the final third of the race but was eventually caught with 17km to go.

“This is a surprise but I’m so happy to have won,” Paolini said. “I don’t think I was the strongest but I played my cards. I knew they’d be waiting for the sprint and so I tried to get away with five kilometres to go.

“It was a very difficult day out there. I crashed twice and changed my bike. But I knew the route and know were to stay up front. After my bad luck I was lucky. It was so bad that we weren’t sure if we could carry on. But we're up in the north and this is real cycling. The strongest survived today.”

Paolini's teammate Alexander Kristoff took the bunch sprint for ninth place ahead of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in 10th.

How it happened

The 200 riders at the start line knew they were facing a long, tough and for some, a heroic battle in such terrible conditions.

After leaving start town Deinze in the rain, few riders were keen on getting in the early breakaway move while facing a headwind towards the coast in Adinkerke. Eventually seven brave riders went away, with Tim Kerkhof (Roompoot Oranje), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R), Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing) and Mirko Tedeschi (Southeast) looking for some early glory and a tactical move for their team leaders.

Despite the strong headwind the leaders covered 39 kilometres in the first hour that resulted in a lead of nearly nine minutes over the peloton. The peloton split even before turning back and riding through the famous Moeren flatlands, while the grey clouds turned the atmosphere into a grim scene. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre) was among the riders who quickly pulled out of the race. The Italian had been ill last week.

Once in the Moeren area, the wind started taking victims. Riders were blown off their bikes into the roadside grass or, like Gert Steegmans (Trek Factory Racing), into the ditch. One massive wind gust caused a big crash that forced several riders to pull out, including Martin Velits (Etixx-QuickStep) and Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal). Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) crashed and lost contact with the first part of the peloton. Many riders climbed off, leaving team vehicles and the broom wagon full.

Due to the gusts of wind, riders tried to stay safe while also trying to maintain some sort of speed. Echelons were formed although these could not be compared with the usual echelons. Riders were constantly balancing on their bike, leaning into the wind, trying not to be blown off the road. Many riders were using wheels with deep section rims and they were paying a high price for that. About 50 riders survived the chaos across the Moeren plain.

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More attacks and more crashes

The peloton then headed into France and the breakaway was soon caught by the first peloton. A second peloton bridged up and later also Cavendish reached the front of the race.

However on another long straight road, the Route de Denkerque, the peloton blew apart again. This time about 25 riders remained up front. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) was among the riders who pulled out of the race. The ascents of the Casselberg were peanuts compared to the constant battle with the wind gusts. Between the two climbs Edvald Boasson-Hagen landed into the barriers on the market square of Cassel.

Heading to the third climb of the day, the Catsberg, there were still about 25 riders in front, including Sep Vanmarcke, Geraint Thomas, Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan. A second group with Arnaud Démare, André Greipel, Matti Breschel and Greg Van Avermaet bridged up just before the Catsberg. While the peloton took a break, Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) launched a solo move and opened a one-minute lead on the peloton at the Catsberg.

A cease-fire followed, with Sep Vanmarcke changing bikes. Attempts to anticipate the attacks from Jens Keukeleire, Edward Theuns, Stijn Vandenbergh, Daniel Oss and Jurgen Roelandts were neutralized before the famous Kemmelberg. Then Roelandts attacked in the aftermath of the Kemmelberg – at nearly 80 kilometres from the finish - and quickly bridged up and overtook Tjallingii.

While riding into the crosswinds again, a group of 13 riders rode away from the peloton. While Stybar punctured, attacks were fired in front. Stijn Vandenbergh rode away and he was eventually joined by Oss, Thomas and later also Vanmarcke and Jens Debusschere. Somehow the five chasers were unable to close the gap on Roelandts. The pace in the peloton dropped back as there were no more teams keen to work.

Paolini launched a late counter-attack. Against the wind the experienced Italian rider managed to join the chase group before it was too late. A little later Thomas was spectacularly blown off the road, tumbling in the grass, barely avoiding falling into the ditch. The winner of the E3 Harelbeke was quickly back on his bike and re-joined the chase group but looked shaken. When the gap between the chase group and the peloton was fifty seconds, Nikki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) also made a successful solo attempt, creating a chase group of seven riders. From there the peloton threw in the towel and quickly lost several minutes. Roelandts kept the chase group at two minutes when reaching the Kemmelberg for the second time, at 38 kilometres from the finish.

The final climb of the Kemmelberg

On the Kemmelberg for the final time, Vandenbergh set the pace in the chase group, with only Thomas holding his wheel. Vanmarcke and Terpstra quickly bridged up on the top of the steep cobbled climb with Oss, Debusschere and Paolini in trouble. Debusschere quickly returned solo, while Paolini needed much more time and Oss cracked. The fast pace set by Vandenbergh and the two final climbs of the day took its toll on leader Roelandts. After the final climb of the day, the Monteberg, the gap was back down to one minute with still thirty kilometres to cover towards the finish in Waregem.

As the road turned flat and the wind blew, Roelandts faded and the chasers upped their speed and began to hunt him down. His lead quickly fell and he was swept up with 17km to go and then cruelly spat out of the move as the attacks began.

Etixx-QuickStep had Terpstra and Vandenbergh and the latter seemed especially strong. However Terpstra surprised his rivals when he attacked immediately after a quick bike change and a chase through the cars. Paolini joined him, indicating he was a threat. However, Thomas also had something left and led the chase up to them, revealing that Vanmarcke and Debusschere were tired.

Thomas, Paolini, Terpstra and Vandenbergh came together with 10 kilometres to go and even Vanmarcke and Debusschere got back on too.

The race seemed set for a sprint but then Paolini tried with six kilometres to go. He was pulled back but noticed his rivals were tired and so went again, this time giving it everything. It was a make or break moment and Paolini broke his rivals. They eased up and moved across the road, looking for someone else to chase. That allowed Paolini to open a gap and take flight.

He opened a 10-second gap in the final kilometres as the other began to race for the podium places. By the time he reached the finish he had time to raise his arms in celebration and savour a great win after a great race. It really was a Gent-Wevelgem for the strongest and the 38 year-old Italian proved he was just that.



Full Results 

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha6:20:55
2Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:11
3Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team SkyRow 2 - Cell 2
4Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:18
5Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:26
6Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:00:40
7Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:01:51
8Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:04:15
9Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha0:06:54
10Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-SaxoRow 9 - Cell 2
11Edward Theuns (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 10 - Cell 2
12Aleksei Tcatevich (Rus) Team KatushaRow 11 - Cell 2
13Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 12 - Cell 2
14Zico Waeytens (Bel) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 13 - Cell 2
15Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ.frRow 14 - Cell 2
16Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing TeamRow 15 - Cell 2
17Scott Thwaites (GBr) Bora-Argon 18Row 16 - Cell 2
18Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica GreenEdgeRow 17 - Cell 2
19Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 18 - Cell 2
20Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM CyclingRow 19 - Cell 2
21Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 20 - Cell 2
22Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro TeamRow 21 - Cell 2
23Eugert Zhupa (Alb) Southeast Pro CyclingRow 22 - Cell 2
24Grégory Rast (Swi) Trek Factory RacingRow 23 - Cell 2
25Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN - QhubekaRow 24 - Cell 2
26Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 25 - Cell 2
27Marco Marcato (Ita) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 26 - Cell 2
28Matteo Trentin (Ita) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 27 - Cell 2
29Christian Knees (Ger) Team SkyRow 28 - Cell 2
30Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro TeamRow 29 - Cell 2
31Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 30 - Cell 2
32Oliver Naesen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 31 - Cell 2
33Nikolas Maes (Bel) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 32 - Cell 2
34Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica GreenEdge0:07:00
35Bram Tankink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:07:03
36Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing TeamRow 35 - Cell 2
37Jelle Wallays (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise0:07:06
38Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 37 - Cell 2
39Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 38 - Cell 2
DNFJohn Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 39 - Cell 2
DNFNikias Arndt (Ger) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 40 - Cell 2
DNFBert De Backer (Bel) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 41 - Cell 2
DNFKoen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 42 - Cell 2
DNFRoy Curvers (Ned) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 43 - Cell 2
DNFRamon Sinkeldam (Ned) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 44 - Cell 2
DNFAlbert Timmer (Ned) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 45 - Cell 2
DNFMark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 46 - Cell 2
DNFMartin Velits (Svk) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 47 - Cell 2
DNFLukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 48 - Cell 2
DNFAndré Greipel (Ger) Lotto SoudalRow 49 - Cell 2
DNFLars Ytting Bak (Den) Lotto SoudalRow 50 - Cell 2
DNFStig Broeckx (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 51 - Cell 2
DNFPim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto SoudalRow 52 - Cell 2
DNFMarcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto SoudalRow 53 - Cell 2
DNFDennis Vanendert (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 54 - Cell 2
DNFGediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) AG2R La MondialeRow 55 - Cell 2
DNFMaxime Daniel (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 56 - Cell 2
DNFDamien Gaudin (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 57 - Cell 2
DNFAlexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 58 - Cell 2
DNFHugo Houle (Can) AG2R La MondialeRow 59 - Cell 2
DNFQuentin Jauregui (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 60 - Cell 2
DNFSébastien Turgot (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 61 - Cell 2