Peter Sagan rode to success in Gent-Wevelgem, accelerating out of an elite breakaway group in the closing kilometres to take a solo victory and – in typical Sagan style – wheelie over the line. Following behind were Borut Bozic and Greg Van Avermaet, who finished second and third respectively.
Interestingly the race started with a strong group of favourites getting off the front of the peloton, containing Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and three of his teammates, including Mark Cavendish. Also escaping was a Sky trio headed by Bernie Eisel, Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), Lars Boom (Blanco), Daniel Oss and Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
However, there was a key rider missing – Fabian Cancellara. The RadioShack-Leopard favourite didn’t make the group, meaning that his team quickly looked to shut it down, and did so before it could cause real problems. In the notorious Belgian crosswinds few moves stuck for long, though one which did was launched by Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) just inside the 90km mark. Going with the Spanish Classics specialist were Assan Bazayev (Astana) and Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ), with the trio opening up a gap of over a minute in just a few kilometres. The peloton behind had been whittled down to around 60 riders, with Cancellara and then Boonen withdrawing in quick succession inside the final 70km – the latter having fallen, complaining about being pushed into a kerb by another rider.
With not much happening for the next few kilometres, the action resumed with 56km to go as IAM’s Heinrich Haussler attacked out of what was left of the peloton. A chase group formed and caught him quickly, with the lead trio being swept up soon after. It left 13 riders leading, in what was an extremely strong group. Sagan had made the split, as had Eisel and BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet.
Lotto Belisol had their representative in Jens Debusschere, though he punctured and dropped out of the group, meaning the Belgian team took up the peloton’s chase with the hope of delivering Andre Greipel to the finish. Despite having their men Eisel and van Avermaet in the escape, Sky and BMC were also contributing to the work in the peloton, with Ian Stannard (Sky) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) buzzing around frustratedly behind, as well as Blanco’s Boom.
However, the chase was never really organised effectively enough to close the gap, which continued to stay at a little over a minute. With 20km remaining the deficit was around 1½ minutes, and whilst over the next 16km – just before Peter Sagan made the winning move – it was cut to just half a minute, it wasn’t enough.
After Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS) made the first move with 4km, Sagan quickly jumped onto his tail and then attacked himself. As if being the stand-in Cancellara, the Slovak time-trialled his way to the victory, eventually coming across the line on one wheel, 28 seconds ahead of Borut Bozic (Astana) and van Avermaet in the group behind. There was simply no stopping him.
Analysis & opinion
As is usually the case in all good Classics, Gent-Wevelgem was a strange, unpredictable sort of race, seemingly with any coherent strategy the teams may have produced blown away in the crosswinds. The tone was set with the unusually strong and large breakaway group which got away early on, before being quickly shut down.
Riders didn’t seem to know whether or not they should go with the breakaways, and, as is so often the case when crosswinds blow up, it was a case of he who dares wins. Teams were left unsure whether or not they should bring the break back, bearing in mind some had teammates up the road but had their race favourites in the bunch. This led to some non-committal chasing from the confused peloton, and in the end played right into the hands of Peter Sagan and those who were actually up the road.
It was interesting to see Sagan attack so early at the finish, as if to flex his muscles ahead of the Tour of Flanders. He was probably the fastest finisher and easily the strongest rider in the escape group, and there was no real need for him to go so early – other than a sheer demonstration of just how strong he is at the moment. He won’t race Paris-Roubaix, though will ride Flanders, and could well cause an upset there.
On the Roubaix and Flanders note, it was bizarre to see both pre-race favourites retiring today. For Fabian Cancellara there should be no real problems, especially after he showed his excellent form with the win at E3 Harelbeke on Friday. For Tornado Tom Boonen, things are a little more concerning. Not only is he in slightly shaky form, but he retired after injuring his knee in a crash. Hopefully it won’t keep him out.
1. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) 4:29:10
2. Borut Bozic (Astana) +0:28
3. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) same time
4. Heinrich Haussler (IAM) s/t
5. Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
6. Mattieu Ladagnous (FDJ) s/t
7. Bernhard Eisel (Sky) s/t
8. Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
9. Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Leopard) s/t
10. Andrey Amador (Movistar) s/t
Links: Preview, Official website
Good report – but I have to say that OPQS seem to be wasting Cavendish in just the same way that Sky did last year. Their man in the break was never going to be their joker card – so why let the likes of Sagan go with the break? Bad tactics. And annoying, because this semi-classic was the one most suited to Cavendish. Don’t buy an expensive rider for your team if you’re not prepared to back him up.
Thanks for the comment Louis. Interesting point, though I think it’s worth noting that Cavendish didn’t really join OPQS for the classics – Tom Boonen was always their designated man for these races. Cav will certainly have his day – probably several of them – in July at the Tour.
Plus, by the end of the race half of the OPQS team had climbed off the bike – Steegmans, Kwiatkowski and Velits all got off along with Boonen. Stybar and Maes both finished in groups behind Cavendish. Even if they wanted to chase down the break, they may have not been able to.