On any normal day, a 250km race over hard Belgian terrain would be brutal, especially with the eleven tough climbs and multiple cobblestone sections to make things difficult, but many of the riders at Gent-Wevelgem would still be feeling the efforts of riding E3-Harelbeke just two days earlier, just to make the going even more difficult. After a fairly flat opening 120km came the climbs, with some of the gradients reaching 14%, before a flat 30km to the finish. Positioning would be the key to winning this race – that and a very healthy dose of luck not to puncture or suffer a mechanical and to be in the right place at the right time when the decisive moves came.
The Team Tactics:
With a similar profile to Friday’s E3-Harelbeke race, the aim today would be to concentrate on reading the race and being in the right place at the right time. With the outcome of the one-day classics races being so dependent on simple good luck, the team would be planning on making as much of that luck as possible, by riding to support Peter and delivering him to the key points of the stage in a strong position to contest the win.
The crisp and cold morning saw most of the riders start the day in arm and leg warmers. With 120km to ride before the first climbs of the day, riders would have plenty of time to get warmed up, but this didn’t mean the start was going to be relaxed. The hard pace from the drop of the flag meant a break didn’t go until 35km had been covered, but once the group of six made their move, they really pushed ahead – creating a significant ten-minute gap that spurred the chasing peloton on to reduce their advantage. As always, German National Champion, Marcus Burghardt, was the key player in reducing the break’s lead, cutting it in half over 50km. With Daniel Oss adding to Marcus’ efforts, the pace left some of the peloton dropping off the back, but on the front, a small group, with UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, in the mix, broke off, first making the catch on the break, before leaving them behind. One of these twenty-three riders, with the group made up of some of the big favourites, would be the race’s winner, and the Slovak rider still had Marcus with him to keep him safe. In the final 2km the attacks came, but Peter stayed calm, saving his energy and keeping a cool head. Starting his sprint from a long way out, nobody could touch the UCI World Champion, and once he was out in front, there was no chance of anyone taking his third Gent-Wevelgem win from him.
- P. Sagan: 5:07:32
- E. Viviani: + 0:00
- A. Demare: + 0:00
- M. Burghardt: + 0:00
From the Finish Line:
"I’m very happy and I’m glad to win this race again. My team did a great job. In the finale, there were two of us remaining in the front group and I’m really happy with our performance. Sprints are always like a lottery and I was wondering what was going to happen. In the end, I started my sprint early and it worked out – I had the legs to keep going. I felt good the second time we climbed the Kemmelberg. It wasn’t too stressful and there wasn’t a lot of wind to make things difficult, which is why we came to the finish in a bigger group. It was a different race today from all of the Gent-Wevelgems I’ve ridden and the lack of stress and the better weather conditions made it easier. It wasn’t anywhere near as crazy as the race has been over the last few years, but it was still really fast." – Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion.
"Today's great victory at the Gent-Wevelgem is the result of the exceptional effort of every single rider, from start to finish. Rüdiger Selig and Andreas Schillinger pulled hard in the first 50km to control the race and make sure we didn't have a breakaway attempt by one of the stronger teams. Then, our strategy was for the squad to stay together, as long as possible, protecting Peter and avoiding any crashes. There were at least 5-6 strong sprinter teams today, so we had to keep a close eye on all the moves. Juraj Sagan, Maciej Bodnar and Daniel Oss were brilliant in keeping Peter safe and worked so hard throughout the race. In the final 50km Marcus Burghardt played a crucial role in helping Peter, launching attacks and counter-attacks to neutralise the efforts of the other teams. We wanted to see what the situation would be after the final climb on the Kemmelberg and Burgi stayed with Peter who, in the finale, launched a perfectly-timed sprint to take this well-deserved win." – Jan Valach, Sport Director.