Sagan wins Gent-Wevelgem

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) took a hard-fought victory at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday after out-sprinting a strong four-man breakaway that successfully made it to the finish line ahead of a larger chase group.

The world champion won the drag race to the line ahead of Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha), who was the first to jump and held a powerful sprint for nearly 200 metres but was caught by Sagan and Vanmarcke as they crossed the line. Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) was fourth but suffered with cramps after being part of the aggressive quartet in the final Gent-Wevelgem of is long career.

Sagan has gone close to victory so many time and so was naturally happy to finally win a major Classic and win as the world champion. He dedicated his win to his wife’s father.

“I’m very happy I won finally in this rainbow jersey,” he said before climbing on the top step of the winner’s podium. “This is my second win at Gent-Wevelgem and this is for the father of my love because he’s having a hard time.”

He then explained the race and the thrilling finale.

“Fabian went on the last climb and then we got in the break. I think the fans saw who were in the break. We worked together from the start,” he said. “We played with group a little. Then in the finale there was a strong wind and we did full gas all day. We went slow near the finish because we had a lot of time on group. Fabian after a lot of kilometres is fast, then they know I’m fast if I feel good. Today I was very, very good and so the win came.”

How it happened

In the start town of Deinze, a few big names didn’t show up to the start due to illness, including Ian Stannard (Sky) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), while Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Matti Breschel (Cannondale) all returned after illness. Riders were expecting wind to become an important factor on Sunday, although not as much as last year’s stormy edition.

The racing started outside of Deinze, after three kilometres of racing, when a small group went clear. The five brave attackers were Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Jonas Rickaert (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Josef Cerny (CCC) and later Simon Pellaud (IAM) got across to them. With the peloton happy to let them go clear, the five opened a lead of up to eleven minutes, averaging 40 km/h despite the strong side wind.

When approaching the feared flatlands of De Moeren, at 160 kilometres from Wevelgem, the speed in the peloton increased and echelons were formed in the wind. The first echelon of 34 riders gained a minute on the second group but unlike last year, it would not be a decisive part of the race. The biggest names who were missing in front were fast men Fernando Gaviria and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) but also Classics specialists Lars Boom (Astana) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo). Bouhanni quickly abandoned the race.

After the passage in De Moeren the race entered France with the first peloton still seven minutes down on the five leaders, while the gaps between the echelons grew up to a minute.

The first peloton kept the speed high and made the second group work hard to get back on as the tactics of Gent-Wevelgem unfolded yet again. At 114 kilometres from the finish the five breakaway riders were pulled back with the second peloton still one minute down. Twenty kilometres later, while still in France at the fourth climb of the day called Côte du Ravel Put, part of the second peloton finally managed to bridge back up with the front of the race. The first peloton now consisted of approximately fifty riders. It was not an easy day for any sprinters hoping to win in Wevelgem.

Just before climb five, the Côte de la Blanchisserie, Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) crashed hard over the handlebars. The winner of Dwars door Vlaanderen was forced to quit the race and was taken to hospital.

Time for the Kemmelberg

The Kemmelberg is the key climb in Gent-Wevelgem and again proved this year. On the first ascent the big guns kept quiet, saving their legs for the final ascent but as the peloton lined out on the descent a few kilometres later, Matteo Trentin initiated a breakaway move on the Monteberg climb that cones just after the Kemmelberg. He was joined by Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Daniel Oss (BMC), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and again Pavel Brutt.

The attack forced the Dimension Data and LottoNL-Jumbo teams to work hard in the small peloton and thirteen kilometres later the five were brought back. However it was a taste of things to come.

Once the five were caught back Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) jumped away alone. The Russian rider quickly opened a gap of nearly a minute when starting the two final key climbs of the day: the Baneberg and the Kemmelberg at 40 and 35 kilometres from the finish. It was a clever move that would pay back big time later in the race.

Vanmarcke attacked on the Baneberg, kicking off the important attacks amongst the overall contenders. He was caught before the peloton hit the steep side of the Kemmelberg but he was clearly on form after a quiet build-up to the Classics. On the cobbled Kemmelberg, Sagan, Cancellara and Vanmarcke first crested the top of the climb and then they powered away towards Kuznetsov. The race had exploded in just a few seconds.

Stybar, Van Avermaet and Rowe were not far behind over the top but struggled to close the final metres after the descent. At 30 kilometres from the finish they were caught back by the chasing peloton, which trailed the four leaders by 20 seconds. The race was balanced on a knife-edge.

In the peloton fast men such Gaviria, Arnaud Démare (FDJ) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) were all waiting for a sprint finish. However the four attackers refused to wait for anyone and worked together to extend their lead. Sagan, Cancellara and Vanmarcke all did massive turns, with Kuznetsov sitting on before bravely doing his bit too.

Behind Etixx-QuickStep hit the front in pursuit but they had missed the big move once again this spring. They worked hard for Gaviria, with five riders chasing but as they ride under the Menin Gate in Ypres, at 23 kilometres from the finish, they were 35 seconds down on the leaders. At that moment they sat up and lost heart, knowing it was virtually impossible to catch the leading quartet. The trial of Etixx-QuickStep’s spring will no doubt begin in the Flemish media.

The mind games begin

Up front, the mind games before the sprint began with five kilometres to go. The riders took turns on the front but also watched each other carefully as if in a track sprint. The speed dropped as the tension rode.

Inside the finale kilometre Cancellara was stuck on the front as Sagan moved across the road several times to avoid being caught out.

Kuznetsov kicked first inside the final 200 metres. Cancellara got on his wheel but struggled to hold it, revealing later he had been hit by cramps. Sagan had no such problems and jumped up to Kuznetsov in a flash. He then kicked clear towards the line and sat up, lowering his arms in celebration as he crossed the line. Finally he had won as world champion and a rainbow soon crossed the Wevelgem sky as rain began to fall.

Sep Vanmarcke finished second and Kuznetsov third, bumping Cancellara off the podium. Sagan has finally won one of the big Sunday Classics. Round two is next week at the Tour of Flanders.

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Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team5:55:12
2Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 1 - Cell 2
3Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 2 - Cell 2
4Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek-SegafredoRow 3 - Cell 2
5Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ0:00:11
6Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Col) Etixx - Quick-StepRow 5 - Cell 2
7Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 6 - Cell 2
8Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Team KatushaRow 7 - Cell 2
9Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing TeamRow 8 - Cell 2
10Michael Morkov (Den) Team KatushaRow 9 - Cell 2
11Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek-SegafredoRow 10 - Cell 2
12Luka Mezgec (Slo) Orica-GreenEdgeRow 11 - Cell 2
13Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 12 - Cell 2
14Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat) IAM CyclingRow 13 - Cell 2
15Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 14 - Cell 2
16Koen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-AlpecinRow 15 - Cell 2
17Pavel Brutt (Rus) Tinkoff TeamRow 16 - Cell 2
18Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension DataRow 17 - Cell 2
19Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro TeamRow 18 - Cell 2
20Tom Boonen (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:17
21Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:19
22Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky0:00:24
23Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:28
24Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:00:29
25Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge0:01:07
26Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie0:01:22
27Berden De Vries (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton0:05:08
28Alexander Porsev (Rus) Team KatushaRow 27 - Cell 2
29Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team Lo