The Moment The Race Was Won: Gent-Wevelgem

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Peter Sagan Gent Wevelgem

Peter Sagan rides away from the lead group with 3.5km to go whilst Greg Van Avermaet, Bernhard Eisel and Borut Božič try to chase. These three riders were Sagan’s greatest rivals in a sprint finish. So instead of outsprinting them, he outrode them. This was the moment the race was won.

Cycling fans in Europe didn’t know where to look. The Criterium International in Corsica, the Volta a Catalunya or Gent-Wevelgem? In the end the multiplex worked out fine. You could watch the final lap of the Montjuic circuit in Catalonia to see Thomas de Gendt grab Vacansoleil-DCM’s first win of the year and Dan Martin seal the overall win, an outcome uncertain until the last moment given Michele Scarponi was up the road and Joaquim Rodriguez tried a late move.

Things were more certain in Corsica where Team Sky got a 1-2 after Chris Froome rode away from race leader Richie Porte and everyone else on the Col de l’Ospedale, almost a replay when Froome led the yellow jersey of Wiggins. Only this time the team orders were to set Froome up for the win. So off he went. By the time the podium was decided with Tejay van Garderen securing third place it was time to head to Belgium… although as viewers reached for their remotes further down the mountain Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck were still riding up.

Perhaps riding up a mountain in Corsica was still preferable to racing in Belgium given the cold in the Kingdom. Overnight snow shortened the distance, a relief for some riders but not ideal for the legs with next Sunday’s 255km Ronde awaiting. Many riders abandoned the race, some by choice because they wanted to avoid the cold but others after crashes and misfortune. Tom Boonen was onne, hitting the cold ground in a small incident that saw him up and riding but dropped and he soon quit.

It took a while for the whole race to warm up, at least in terms to make the television producers cheer. The race was being thinned out by a strong breeze which scattered the peloton into smaller groups but we’d yet to see the big names try. First was Philippe Gilbert but they say he’s still honing his form. From the front group Assan Bazayev (Astana), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) went away, three strong riders in their own right but always a holding pattern whilst others behind bided their time.

Behind Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) launched his bid on the Baneberg and was followed by Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and soon a group of 12 formed with Bernhard Eisel (Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Borut Božič (Astana), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Yaroslov Popovych (Radioshack-Leopard), Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol) and Ladagnous and Flecha, with Bazayev ejected. Haussler was again riding without gloves, testimony to a winter spent cross-country skiing and to the simple fact that he’s often visible at the front of races again.

This set up a large group which pulled out a lead on the chasing “peloton” led by Lotto-Belisol for André Greipel after their man Debusschere punctured. Several Lotto riders are seem to be unlucky with punctures this season. Jurgen Roelandts was another today too and worse, he got hit by a race car and taken out of the race.

The struggle between the leaders and what was left of the bunch was not obvious, the strong headwind made everyone look slow and it was not gripping TV. The gap only began to fall until it stood at one minute with 10km to go. Further on and Cannondale lost Bodnar, he’d done his job driving the group to help Sagan. Would someone  attack? Nobody wanted to go alone into the headwind. Stijn Vandenbergh tried but his move was so slow and obvious. But what else could he do?

Then Peter Sagan went. On paper he was the best sprinter although Eisel, Van Avermaet and Božič can all finish fast. No, what separates Sagan from these riders is more than sprint, it’s raw power that can be turned on for minutes instead of metres. And so Sagan launched his sprint with 3.5km to go and rode away. Eisel and Van Avermaet tried to chase but were losing ground.

Sagan came in with 28 seconds and pulled a wheelie on the line to celebrate. It was a fun gesture but not as easy as it looked. He had to shift gear, sit back and pull on the bars, a technical moment that was not that fluent in its execution. In fact the whole day was harder than it looked.

Peter Sagan Wheelie wevelgem victory celebration

The Verdict
This wasn’t the easy win the result might suggest. Yes Sagan soloed away but he was helped by Bodnar’s work to drive the group. Sagan himself was taking turns but the presence of a team mate was valuable. But his late attack was a sign that he won’t just wait for the sprint. After all he tried to ride clear in Milan-Sanremo as the race came off the Poggio and if that looked a foolish move, today his attack was more sensible as it ditched rival sprinters.

If Sagan had been caught it could all be so different but the winners get to write history and Sagan finally gets his name engraved on a classics trophy.

With the Tour of Flanders just days away now Sagan’s versatility will help him. The next week will see the Belgian media go to town on OPQS, BMC and Team Sky, each of the sport’s “super teams” are coming away with little more than podium places. For me the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem might be World Tour but they’re nowhere near the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix but still Sagan and Fabian Cancellara have won whilst their rivals are still waiting. Less than one week to go…

Women’s Gent-Wevelgem
Kirsten Wild won the women’s race. She took the sprint from a lead group of 13 riders but, perhaps it was the headwind, she finished the sprint in the saddle and with her hands on the tops of the bars.

Kirsten Wild

Julie (@Julesmpg) March 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I love the classics. Of course, I have a fondness for the king of California Sagan, he is a sweet boy and I think a breath of fresh air in the cycling world. So nice to see him win a classic. I love all of the little races, of course Paris-Roubaix is a favorite.

Michael and Marijana Stechow March 24, 2013 at 7:47 pm

This race, G-W, was much more interesting to watch than the stories will convey. There were some strong riders and fast finishers in that final group, and they were not all working hard. Maybe Haussler, but otherwise mostly Bodnar and Sagan. The gap was falling fast, and Bodnar had absolutely buried himself to hang on the rear and recover after every pull. The group would lose more time until Bodnar came back up to pull, but he could not keep that up. When he blew, doing the math led to three scenarios: one- the break wasn’t going to work together and would be caught, two – Sagan and maybe Flecha would have to do all the work to maintain the gap and the finish would be a contest between the fast finishers Bozic, Eisel, van Avermat and Haussler, three – Sagan would bolt, but this seemed unlikely….for about 3 seconds :)
Impressive and courageous performances by Cancellara and Sagan this week! Well done!

DJ March 24, 2013 at 9:50 pm

It was sad to see Bodnar fall back from the break at the end, but he gave it all for Sagan and the team. Salute to a worker who made a big contribution to Sagan’s solo.

Dylan March 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Sagan’s gloves were off by the end too. What did he have stuck to the back of his hands though?

solo March 24, 2013 at 8:59 pm

My guess is that was capsicine sticker; it gets warm when it is wet (rain, sweat). Wery useful for riding in the rain and cold.

DuxDucis March 25, 2013 at 2:41 am

Sagan ditched his gloves with 6 km to go. It looks like a couple young fans got a nice souvenir.

tonyrone March 24, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I have been shouting from the roof tops about this kid for as long as I can recall and for me its of great happiness and financial gain ;) that he`s popped his cherry
and boy oh boy what a climax it was
Yip
Peter The Great has come of age
:D

jkeltgv March 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Great win. It’s hard to believe we were all saying similar things about EBH 4 years ago. While the clamour is justifiably a bit louder for Sagan the EBH experience should keep him on his toes. Has he won another classic since G-W 4 years ago?. No one would have guessed that all he’d have to show is a tour stage and a couple of national champs…..and a Tour of Britain!

The Inner Ring March 24, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Sky have said they want results from him. Makes you wonder where he would fit next year?

bob March 24, 2013 at 10:57 pm

No results? He’s won two classics on at least the same level as G-W in Vattenfall and GP Ouest-France, the overall at Eneco twice, and got silver at Worlds. Those are all pretty substantial…

bob March 24, 2013 at 11:02 pm

You can add to that

10 points jerseys
Key domestique for Tour de France champion
1 semi-classic win
Tour of Norway GC
Multiples stages at Dauphine and T-A

For a rider whose team wants him to be a key domestique and the Tour every year, I would say he’s accomplished quite a bit. Sagan is lucky in that he is the focus of his entire team.

For what it’s worth, I always viewed Boasson Hagen as more of a fall rider, someone who peaks late and fights for a Worlds jersey everywhere (and will most likely win one).

The Inner Ring March 25, 2013 at 8:12 am

All very good results and his team work shouldn’t be forgotten, he was important to Wiggins last July. But the team seem to be saying he is paid to win races like the Tour of Flanders or Milan-Sanremo. It’s rare to see public, or semi-public, criticism of riders get out like this.

hoh March 25, 2013 at 8:27 am

Plus he’s probably almost as good at wheelie as Sagan.

jkeltgv March 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm

@bob I appreciate that he has won some races (and dispute that Vettenfall & Plouay are equal to GW, sure they have the same “level” but not at all the same prestige.) but the point I was making is that a lot of people were waiting for him to take over the world back then (not quite as we are now for Sagan of course) and I think he has failed to live up to that. It’s a cautionary tale for Sagan in some ways. Perhaps his decision to go to Sky was a bad one but if I were a betting man I would have had him down for a monument by now, going back 4 years.

Craig March 26, 2013 at 3:53 am

While good races to win, those races are simple not at the same level as GW, sorry. Besides that, EBH hasn’t won anything BIGGER than GW despite his substantial contributions to his team and his wins in smaller races.

Vitus March 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Vattenfall is everything but a Classic. It’s just another made up shitty race.

Razor March 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Inrng, no “The moment the race was won” for E3?
Curious about your thoughts…

The Inner Ring March 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

I can’t do them all. I think Cancellara’s win was a reply from the past and sets us up for the upcoming races.

Birillo March 24, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Good to see the Rabobank jersey in action.

Owen March 25, 2013 at 12:00 am

Have you seen the full results for the women’s race? It’s criminal they’re not on the race website yet.

dougEG March 25, 2013 at 5:34 am

Peter the Great! never said better. the guy is phenominal,. Barely misses, racing against a true sprinter …mmm whatever!!! next week: “BAMB” Pete hangs out with the fast guys, kicks their ass and pops a wheelie!!! He was the best of the best, again!!

Over the past couple of weeks you can see the fitness of the riders get better. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of, some might say, incredible performances by riders during this period of time. I really hope that those responsible are doing what it takes make this sport as clean as it could/should be (either would suit me) .

Anonymous March 25, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Great finish shot of the women’s race. Who get’s the photo credit?

The Inner Ring March 25, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I can’t find out the individual name but it is from the Cor Vos agency so it could be Cor Vos himself.

A reminder that most photos with the INRNG watermark can be purchased. If you see a picture you like, email me and I can put you in touch with the Cor Vos agency and you can buy the photo online.

Van Vliet Bikes March 25, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Awesome story, props for rabobank team :)

Big Mikey March 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Inrng…..that was a one-handed wheelie. Much higher degree of difficulty.
That kid is a winner, no doubt.

MadMike March 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Anybody know what was on the cheeks of the Europcar rider who was working in the front of the peloton for the last 1/3 of the race? wtf?!
http://i1355.photobucket.com/albums/q705/lamptime/Europcar_eyewear_zpsec14d205.png

Chrisman March 27, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Where’s all the Puritans complaining about his outrageous showboating? Come on, I know you’re out there……….

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