Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is going to need an extra shelf in his trophy cabinet with his history-making trio of victories at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and now Gent-Wevelgem. Indeed, he’s the first man to take all three in the same season since 1981. With the peloton bearing down, the Olympic Champion held off Orica-Scott’s Jens Keukeleire in a two-up sprint, after a nerve-jangling run to the line. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) finished a disgruntled third after being part of the winning move of the day.
Rider of the Race
Confession time. I would have loved to see Jens Keukeleire take victory today. He animated the move with 22km to go that took the winning group of five riders away, and put in an immense effort on that long, never-ending run to the finish line. However, he was beaten by a rider at the very top of his game and so my award goes to Greg Van Avermaet.
His smooth power on the second ascent of the Kemmelberg made the initial break that only John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Edvald Boassen Hagen (Dimension Data) could live with. His ballsiness to go with Keukeleire when Sagan and Quickstepper Niki Terpstra were faffing about. His absolute conviction in keeping that duo away, and his supreme confidence in leading that sprint out when truly I was getting ready to moan, unfairly, about wheelsucking. No, this time Greg, you got me. #Chapeau
Second confession. I have never been hugely impressed by BMC’s captain of the cobbles. There was always something a little ‘unflamboyant’ about him, I never felt his passion. However, the Olympic gold medal appears to have unleashed a fire and self belief that burns fiercely. Take this from his post race interview, these are not the words of an eternal bridesmaid.
I was audacious and that created an ideal situation for me. I can’t hide it any longer, I will without a doubt be the man to beat – the favourite [for De Ronde next week]
Perhaps he’d better make it two extra shelves.
The moment the race was won came with 15km to go. Van Avermaet, Keukeleire, Terpstra, Sagan and a hugely impressive Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) were holding around 30secs on a motivated chasing mob. Yes, it was a good gap, but not one you could afford the luxury of playing about with. So I was perplexed when suddenly the action slowed. They fanned out, grabbing bidons and looking at each other. Keukelaire wasn’t happy with this and attacked. Van Avermaet grabbed his wheel and they got a gap. Sagan chased, but tellingly Terpstra would not come through for his turn, then added insult to injury by closing down Sagan as he attempted to bridge up to the lead duo. From then on the two big guns indulged in a game of brinkmanship that cost all three riders the chance to battle for the win. The quotes for the press were illuminating.
I don’t know what Terpstra wanted to do, because he attacked to go in the breakaway and after he doesn’t want to work. This is just one example of how you can lose the race against me. What can I do? I am not his teammate. I’m going to work for what, for Terpstra to beat me in the sprint? I could decide today who can win.
From Tom Boonen …
He’s the only man who lost the race today. Nikki didn’t lose the race. He was there, trying to win the race. It’s up to Sagan to react at that moment, when you’re the strongest and the world champion.
From Kragh Andersen…
In the end, Terpstra didn’t want to ride at all, and Sagan was like, ‘Okay, I’ll also stop.’ They let Van Avermaet and Keukeleire go, and they are not stupid: They put the gas down and from then on, all three of us screwed ourselves.
We are still left with the eternal cobbled classics questions: “What were Quick Step thinking?” and “How is Sagan going to win?”
It’s been one year since the tragic loss of Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Antoine Demoitié. I can not imagine how the team felt as they stood, heads bowed, for the one minute silence at the start of race before rolling away at the head of the peloton. A simple black memorial stone has been erected at Sainte-Marie-Cappel, the site of the crash, and as a mark of respect the #192 dossard Antoine carried that day has been retired from the race.
Mark McNally rode #GWE with the team last year, Before the start he said, “We’d like to show something for him today.” He made the break.
The route for Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields is interwoven with the history of the Great War as it wends through and past many battlefield memorials. For 2017 the race organisers added the Plugstreets in commemoration of the 2914 Christmas ceasefire. These three sectors of gravel roads came with 60km to go – between the two ascents of the Kemmelberg. The narrowness of the roads and the tight bends leading into them were expected to cause problems. Not everyone was a fan of the additions. Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevre was particularly vocal in his opposition. He may just have changed his mind given how his riders split the field apart on the gravel.
1 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) 5:39:05
2 Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) s/t
3 Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) +0.06
4 Niki Terpstra (Quick Step Floors) s/t
5 John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) s/t