Degenkolb Takes Gent-Wevelgem
What a difference a week makes! Last Sunday, John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) rued his bad fortune after he punctured in the final kilometers of Milan-San Remo. Today, the German had the luck that he lacked last week. The Giant-Shimano man avoided mechanical problems and crashes, taking a bunch sprint to win Gent-Wevelgem in 5:34:37. Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) finished the hilly, 233-km classic in second, and defending champion Peter Sagan (Cannondale) took third.
Warm temperatures and sunny skies greeted the riders. The attacks began at the gun, and in the opening km, Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank), Sebastian Lander (BMC), Marcel Aregger (IAM Cycling), Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) jumped clear. At 35 km, the break led the bunch by 10:30.
The peloton woke up and began to chase. The pursuit cut the escapees’ advantage to eight minutes at 115 km and 5:30 with 85 km left. When the riders reached the hilliest part of the course—the two ascents each of the Baneberg, Kemmelberg, and Monteberg—the fugitives were three minutes ahead of the peloton. Behind, in separate incidents, Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) and Ian Stannard (Sky) crashed and abandoned.
On the second ascent of the Baneberg, with 50 km remaining, Boaro attacked his companions. Five km later, he led the field by 1:14. Behind, a crash took down Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida).
On the second trip up the Kemmelberg, Boaro led the bunch. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek) led the pursuit, and with 37 km left, Boaro was as good as caught.
Fifteen km later, Silvan Dillier (BMC), Stijn Devolder (Trek), and Andrey Amador (Movistar) attacked. The peloton debated who would chase, and the trio forged a 30-second lead. Cannondale, Giant-Shimano, and Lotto-Belisol began to chase, but initially the pursuit made no inroads into the break’s advantage.
With 12 km to go, Garmin-Sharp, Tinkoff-Saxo Bank, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step added muscle up front, but the gap hovered at about 0:30 with 10 km left.
With eight km left, a crash took down Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), among others, with Greipel abandoning with a possible broken collarbone. The chase lost momentum for a time, and with five km remaining, the fugitives still led the peloton by 0:30.
Lotto, Cannondale, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step bore down, and the escapees’ lead was down to 0:12 with three km left. At the one-km banner, the break was caught. With about 500 m left, a crash created havoc. Sagan started sprinting, but Degenkolb countered and passed the Slovakian. Demare had the German’s wheel and made his move, but Giant-Shimano rider held him off by half a wheel.
Degenkolb narrowly avoided the crash that took down Greipel and Farrar. He attributed his victory to team support. “This race is one of the really big classics and I am so happy to add Gent-Wevelgem to my palmares,” Degenkolb said. “The race worked out perfectly for us today. The guys were really strong and Dries [Devenyns] did a great job chasing towards the end – he is really strong at the moment.
“Koen de Kort positioned me perfectly in the finale, driving me onto Sagan’s wheel and I had the right position and could come through at the right time so it was a fantastic sprint. I am a very happy man.
“My shape is good, and this is a good sign for the next big races. Last weekend at Milan-San Remo was probably one of the most disappointing moments of my career, and today everything went 100 percent better than last week so I can forget about that disappointment now.”
Degenkolb, Sagan, and others will cross paths at the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. How will they fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!