The Moment The Race Was Won: Gent-Wevelgem

John Degenkolb throws his bike to the line to beat Arnaud Démare. After 233km there was only half a wheel between the pair. This was the moment the race was won.

The day started with warmer weather in Belgium than Barcelona and thereby making a bunch sprint almost inevitable. This race doesn’t have the most selective parcours and without crosswinds to split the bunch there was little an enterprising team could do to thwart the sprinters. But enough of the weather, the big issue of the day was Tom Boonen’s thumb. Not since the fictional Hans Brinker stopped the Netherlands being flooded has a nation been so interested in the digit of one of its sons. Boonen started with his thumb strapped after a crash on the way to Harelbeke and finished ith a thumbs up after fifth place in the sprint. He might want better but it’ll be ok for next Sunday.

Live coverage started early and you saluted the endurance of Sporza’s Michel Wuyts, able to talk for hours about a race without much action. Things really picked up on the second climb of the Kemmelberg when Peter Sagan tried to pull a group clear but if the move had plenty of big names it didn’t have enough small ones to help drive the pace and so the likes of Sagan and Cancellara were left looking at each other while others hitched a ride. It did force a selection but only via the back as it got rid of some stragglers.

Today was a tribute to Eugene Polley, the inventor of the TV remote control. First the Critérium International finished with Jean-Christophe Péraud winning his first stage race as IAM’s Mathias Frank took stage three. Then Lieuwe Westra won in Barcelona as Joaquim Rodriguez won the Volta outright. It allowed the action to be paced, leaving time to tune back in for the final 20km.

As for Belgian TV the Sporza production had two extras. First the car-mounted cam. Some have said it’s not new but it seemed rare, the stability provided by a four wheel vehicle provided a superior image. It doesn’t replace moto cams but it does complement the production.

As seen on TV

Another is the in-car cameras to record what the directors are doing. And what are they doing? Swearing. Despite the cosmopolitan composition of the cars the word of the day was resolutely anglo-saxon and began with the letter-F. Team managers might be dressed in the uniform of their sponsors and riding inside branded vehicles but they’ve yet to adapt to the presence of cameras and microphones, behaving instead like angry cab drivers caught in rush hour traffic. A lot of the footage is dull but it does add to the coverage, more camera angles to use when things are quiet. How long until the teams ensure more logos are visible with branded seat belts etc?

Gent-Wevelgem route
One reason to channel hop was that the race wasn’t compelling to watch until late in the race. The E3 Harelbeke has a better course that prompts more action and selection… but Gent-Wevelgem is on a Sunday and attracts a bigger audience who tune in only to watch not much happening. The problem for race owner Flanders Classics is that they can’t make Gent-Wevelgem too much of a copy of their big asset, next weekend’s Ronde.

Fall parties
But back to the race. The local word for a crash is valpartij, a “fall party” and if it wasn’t enjoyable the race was a crash fest. Ian Stannard was taken to hospital, there was a big crash on the second approach to the Kemmelberg and with 10km to go another crash took out Tyler Farrar and André Greipel when both could have featured in the sprint. Instead Greipel climbed into his team car, his jersey looking like it had been fed into an office shredder and nursing a broken collarbone.

Stijn Devolder Sylvain Dillier

Meanwhile Stijn Devolder was on the rampage. He didn’t win anything but left a giant clue as to his form. Already strong in the E3 Harelbeke, now he was able to hold off the chasing bunch. Assisted by impressive neo-pro Silvain Dillier and Movistar’s Andrey Amador, the Belgian champion has to be a strong pick for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen next Sunday. Note he’s currently 66-1 for Sunday, don’t bet a centime on it but the price is odd given he could barge up the road and never get caught again. How Trek manage him and Fabian Cancellara will be fascinating.

Laatste kilometer
After so many crashes just making the final kilometre might have seemed a relief for riders hoping to fight another day but celebrations would be premature as there was another stack in the sprint to the line. Like the finish in Milan-Sanremo this was a finish that suited sprinters but devoid of the science we typically see in a controlled run to the finish in a grand tour. Only the survivors were left. Like Sanremo the sprint was all over the road but Degenkolb came through the middle to win, pushed close by Arnaud Démare with Sagan in third.

The Verdict
An intense finish but viewers did better to zap from race to race across Europe in search of action;inevitable for this sprint-friendly classic on warm day without much of a breeze. The tension went up in the final 20km thanks to Devolder’s efforts and sadly spiced up by some crashes too. John Degenkolb took his first major win, at least a level beyond stages in the Giro, Vuelta and the Hamburg Cyclcassics. We knew he could win those kind of races but now he’s a player in the cobbled classics too.

Looking ahead, Devolder’s already been mentioned. So who else?

  • A great sprint for Sep Vanmarcke who took fourth place
  • Sagan’s on the podium again, great consistency but he was down to two team mates for the finish on this “easy” course
  • Topsport’s Tom Van Asbroeck had another good day with sixth place. He can pick his team for next year
  • Thor Hushovd appeared in the top-10? Is this a promising result ahead of Paris-Roubaix… or would he have made the podium in times past?
  • A bad day for Sky with Thomas in a tangle and Stannard in hospital. Edvald Boasson Hagen was their best in 23rd; he seems strong in support of others

Finally the race was rembranded “Gent-Wevelgem – In Flanders Fields” in remembrance of World War I but this was a podium turned to the future where the oldest rider was Degenkolb at just 25 with Sagan 24 and Démare still 22. It’s a step up for the German. A puncture denied him the chance to sprint in Sanremo so this confirms his form. He’s versatile and thinking about Paris-Roubaix too.

Gent Wevelgem 2014 podium degenkolb

60 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: Gent-Wevelgem”

  1. A nice review and quickly after the race. However, ‘valpartij’ doesn’t translate into fall party. Partij doesn’t mean party.

    Van Asbroeck with another strong showing indeed. Vanmarcke seems stronger than ever and seems a good bet for the next two Sundays.

    • Partij can mean several things, including party, no?

      Vanmarcke’s strong and has a team built around him. A podium is possible but he’s yet to join the club of winners, can he outride Cancellara and outsprint Sagan?

      • Well, a party in the sense of like a political party, not a party to celebrate.

        He was close on last year’s Paris – Roubaix, but got caught on inexperience on the Velodrome, that won’t happen again this year. We’ll have to see. We have many strong contenders and only one winner.

        I’ve been following this blog for a long time now, I think it’s amazing. So thank you for that!

  2. Excellent review! We caught an Italian broadcast via a link at Steephill TV with Paolo Savoldelli as the technical commentator. Had to laugh when watching the peloton careening around these tiny roads. When the Giro races over stuff like this you hear all kinds of crying..but here the tough guys just get on with it? Looking forward to next week and The Ronde after seeing it live last year (and suffering over some of the cobbles myself).

  3. “Not since the fictional Hans Brinker stopped the Netherlands being flooded as a nation been so interested in the digit of one of its sons.”

    Boonen is not Dutch, he is Belgian.

  4. Stijn Devolder cut his after race Interview short because he had to do some “bij training”, meaning another two hours behind his fathers dernie after a 233 K race, amazing.

  5. Gent-Wevelgem is hell of a race, even when it’s boring. It has a special flavour. But it’s not selective enough… I don’t think they should throw a myriad of “muuren” there (1977 was great, but exactly, it was a basically a Ronde + Kemmelberg) just increase the distance for abolut an hour and a half. A Flemish San Remo. Guys like Degenkolb and Sagan’d win anyway, but there’d be more fun and less crashes. (Le spectateur veille surtout a votre sûreté… M. Gilbert). 🙂

  6. Funny, and a little graphic, to hear the f-bombs on “TV” (if you can call my internet surfing TV). Greipel was very pleased to hear that Degenkolb won: all smiles and kisses, not.

    These guys work so hard to make it up to form for these races, then to crash out must be a profound kick-in-the-gut.

    • It just wasn’t windy enough today, a gentle spring day. The coast is often windier but not today. I can’t remember who it was but once the race passed along the coast and a rider drops back to his team car and complains to his DS that the race is so hard. “Shut up” goes the DS and then a gust of wind blasts sand from a nearby dune into the team car, promptly shutting up the DS.

  7. The in car camera was incredibly difficult to watch when Greipel climbed in the car. Gut wrenching. All those miles, and the weight of a team on his shoulders, and it ends on the tarmac. Nice to see new things tried to help promote cycling.

  8. Does anyone else think Thomas must be the unluckiest pro cyclist in the world ? I can’t believe, with his background, that he has bike handling issues, but he always seems to come unstuck. I wonder if him and Tyler Farrar make a conscious effort to stay out of each other’s way.

  9. Linguistic update: not sure if you’ve already said this but my translator says Degenkolb = Sword+Piston. Quite appropriate.

  10. About Sagan’s teammates… Cannondale sure has a budget issue, thus it ain’t surprising that Peter hasn’t the strongest of teams.
    Anyway, I think that in the last kms at least three or four Cannodales were around there, I’m pretty sure about Gatto and Longo Borghini, I believe I recognized them, and I’d dare to say that even Marangoni was in the bunch. Plus, another guy I couldn’t identify. I was seeing a streaming, therefore I’m not totally sure of what I’m saying but, hey I’ve got the impression that they even worked (sometimes) 🙂
    Five (or four?) out of eight isn’t so bad, especially since they had to do some hard working, not just hiding in the bunch. I expected more from Gatto, but maybe he’s building form.
    How many riders were there for the other top placed teams? Ok, I guess there were some ten out of eight Omegas, with Boonen, Trentin and Stybar in plain sight, and a lot of extras…
    But had FDJ more than two or three men? I just saw Demare and Offredo. Vanmarcke fought for fourth as four men in one, yeah, but had he any teammate? Tankink, maybe, and…? I don’t know, but, for sure, there weren’t Bianchi armies on the front. Paolini crashed, bad luck, but the fact is that neither Katusha showed big numbers. Same goes for Lotto.
    Giant had a good race, with various domestics… I couldn’t recognize them, so they were hard to count, but I don’t think they outnumbered Cannondale.
    BMC, their relatively poor result notwithstanding, was impressive for collective presence (maybe just me knowing faces & names?): Hushovd, GVA, Phinney, Quinziato, Schär, that Dillier fugitive (didn’t know his name, but I ended getting it).
    That is, from today’s race we can say Sagan could get better support, if anything, from Omega or BMC. Considering that if he goes to BMC, he will be struck by the “BMC jersey curse” (the’ve got so many world champions that the curse has extended to the team as a whole), thus not winning anything anymore 😛 … I guess he really hasn’t so many options to improve his situation, teammates-wise.
    I’m joking, but I don’t know if this “poor Peter, bad team” is a fact or a refrain.
    As I said, without doubt he has no army on his side, but in Sanremo they did quite well (debate is open about tactics, but they showed strength), and today they defended themselves better than the vast majority of teams.
    Sagan was all alone on Friday, true, but we’re speaking of a 4 + 17 men races… how many teams had big numbers in E3? (besides Omega, I wonder if any other team had more than a couple of men on the front… didn’t check out but I deeply doubt it).

    • The same goes for Trek really. For a long time people have bemoaned the lack of support for Cancellara. Sure they are no Quick Step, but when making this argument everyone conveniently forgets about the way they completely bossed RdV and PR last year. Looked to me like Trek had 4 or 5 riders in the finale of G-W. They were all held up behind the last crash though. Also, haven’t heard anyone mention it, but I’m pretty sure that was Cancellara that had a guy crash into his ass and then fall off while Cance continued on, slowed but unbothered.

  11. Inrng, what do you think Tom Boonen’s performance today in 5th place says about his chances for the Ronde? Is he a bit off with the thumb and missing San Remo, or is he about where he wants to be?

      • You mean “if he wasn’t blocked in the sprint”? Ok, so its a declaration of form but seriously, I’m pretty tired of people making claims like this. Fabboo did it at MSR too. Guys, for every race that you won, ten guys were standing behind the podium saying “if only…..” the luck went your way then, its going somewhere else now. Leaving it all to the sprint is a lottery, even for the sprinters. Put your nose in the wind and ride away from the bunch if you’re so strong.

  12. Perhaps tater-tom will setup someone else on team?

    Lets give inrng a break on the linguistics of all the EU languages please…

  13. “Degenkolb took his first major win, at least a level beyond stages in the Giro, Vuelta and the Hamburg Cyclcassics.”

    Degenkolb himself put the victory today over Hamburg, in the podium interview, and said that it meant a lot for him to win a real classic, that Cyclassics what nice, but….

    Gent-Wevelgem is far above that modern race “Hamburg Cyclassics”, which has apart from the name absolutely nothing to do with a classic. It exists since 1996, and every German with some knowledge of cycling in this country would tell you that former “Rund um den Henninger Turm” is far more a classic and challenging race here than that Hamburg thing. Unfortunately it lost its former status cause the date is fixed in May 1.

  14. I enjoy the race, though there are some dull stretches. I love the short punchy cobbled climbs. And on those super narrow roads it almost looks like they’re racing on cycle paths or a paved CX course. Devolder’s breakaway livened things towards the end. I thought Degenkolb had a shot at Milan Sanremo, nice to see him get a big win. I’ve been impressed by his toughness and his long sprints for a while.

  15. How soon before Orica Greenedge make a podium? They are racing these classics, apparently…

    Ok, so I’ll answer that myself. Not this year by any stretch of the imagination.

    Maybe Karma has caught up with them, although I am not sure cutting its ex dopers from team manegement will help. A weight loss programme for one of its sprinters might work, starting with his head. The rest are just a random punt on kids, who aren’t showing anything. Take out Gerrans and the team would struggle to be competitive at Conti level.

    PS. The sponsor of the TDU Santos got ‘another’ fine for environmental damage the other day (contamination). The contamination is said to have been caused by water leaking from a pond, with lead, aluminium, arsenic, barium, boron, nickel and uranium detected in the aquifer (drinking water, incl. for animal stock etc.). Nice.

    • That’s a bit harsh on Yates who showe well last week at Volta Catalunya and Michael Matthews didn’t have a bad Vuelta.

      But Matthew HARLEY Goss is rather lost at every big sprint.

      • As I’ve said before Goss is having such a hard time that if he tried to buy a race the deal would collapse. The bad luck continued yesterday, he’s suffering from allergies. He went back to the team car to get his inhaler… but dropped it before he could take a puff and matters only got worse.

    • maybe they are a victim of having to be ‘up’ for the early season home races, hence the next phase for them is to regroup and peak again around Giro time?
      must admit I’m starting to feel like it’s worth putting Goss out of his misery tho and focussing on Matthews etc….

  16. I still have a nagging feeling Cancellara is not in his best form although he does his best trying to cover it. Devolder is flying but is he allowed to attack and left C. alone? Let’s all hope so. The mighty OPQS armada left a somewhat weakish impression too. Boonen was just hiding in the bunch and Terpstra was surprisingly weak against Sagan at the E3 finale. If Sagan doesn’t make mistakes (like he often does) he looks like the obvious winner candidate for the Flanders. Sky looks really, really strong as a team as long as they keep themselves on the road. I hope Stannard is OK. The crash looked very bad.

    • G-W was a training race for Devolder and Cancellara: Devolder went to go motorpacing immediately after the race, Fabian said in pre-race interviews “I just need to roll in” (something many didn’t manage because they were on the ground).

      “Terpstra was surprisingly weak against Sagan at the E3 finale.”

      If you watched Dwars Door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, you’d maybe understand that he wasn’t fully recovered 2 days later…let alone that Sagan would beat him in pretty much any sprint.

  17. For observations on the crashes:
    1) Crashes appear to be found more and more on straight roads and at high speed. The samne as in the TdF, too many riders want to be at the front and have the feeling they are capable of riding at the front.

    2) Michel Wuyts said that the peloton is too big (more riders than beore are competitive and the differences between riders seem to diminish). That the peloton is too big is something we have heard now for about five years in the first week of the TdF.

    3) I heard Taylor Phinney say that the use of painkillers (Ibuprofen; paracetamol) has increased in the peloton and that as a result of that riders aren’t as alert when on the road as they could be.

    4) Dylan van Baarle mentioned that – especially in WT-races – too many riders want to score points and secure there contracts for next year. He said the crashes were the effect of the UCI/WT-point system in which riders are not only riding too win but riders are also battling hard to become number 5-10 in a race. The amount of riders battling hard for positioning has increased. Nibali actually said something familair last week after MSR and complained that riders are not riding to win, but are riding to score points.

    • On the fourth point it shows many riders don’t understand the points system at work. Each team will be ranked on the basis of its five riders with the most points. This means it’s pointless having, say, two points to your name by finishing 10th in G-W because the rankings are all about a few riders having lots of points and not lots of riders having a few points each.

      This system has changed over time, it used to be a squad was judged on its best 15 riders and so having a tail of riders each with a handful of points mattered. Now it doesn’t.

      • On the subject of crashes and Geraint Thomas, he tweeted yesterday ”I just don’t understand the risks some guys take #chill”.

        As was mentioned earlier, given his background G’s bike handling skills should be sound, if so then he is incredibly unlucky. He certainly sounded frustrated yesterday.

        Inrng, you said about Van Asbroeck can pick his team for next year. Do Topsport guys usually just go to Omega?

        • Plenty to OPQS but they’re increasingly building a bigger base with their development programme. TVA is sure to have interest from Lotto-Belisol, Belkin and Trek maybe want a second sprinter too for Nizzolo… and that’s just the local teams.

    • The third point shows that Taylor Phinney doesn’t know much about the “painkillers” he’s naming (or has Rooie put those names there?). They’re common pain relievers which have no effect on vigilance, you’re even allowed to drive or use heavy machinery while on them. If it was Taylor who named those specific drugs, I guess he was proud to show off his ignorance about drugs, or he was implying people are using something else he just doesn’t want to name.

  18. Very difficult as I was also trying to watch a rugby match at the same time but did I hear the Sporza commentators refer to Stannard as a bully? About right if they did.

    • I think the term was likely to be ‘tempobeul’, which would be applicable to Stannard and it’s one they use frequently (particularly Renaat Schotte, I think). Loosely translated, it means ‘hard rider’.

    • At 1.89m and 83k ‘Yogi’ is a big lad, a very big and extremely powerful lad. I can’t comment on possible Sporza prejudices because I don’t speak Flemish but I can ask you as to exactly what you base your assessment of Mr. Stannard’s personality traits upon. He has that giant engine that all top rouleurs need and has chugged along for years doing sterling work at the head of the peloton for team sky. I would strongly suggest that if he were to ever come onto the open market every top Dutch/Belgian outfit would be clamouring for his signature. Perhaps if the Sporza commentators did refer to Stannard in the terms you suggest it should be regarded as sour grapes, possibly because he’s a Brit, that can live with and inflict pain upon their best home riders, possibly because he rides for Team Sky. Either way there’s some green-eyed viewing taking place…

  19. – It might be my nationalism, but I think Niki Terpstra has left slightly a better impression in Flanders than Boonen so far. Boonen’s complaining about getting blocked in the sprint is really weak. I’m really curious how this will work out when the big races arrive.

    – Is it just me, or are things looking pretty grim for Lotto-Belisol? Now that Greipel is out, who else do they have? They are an even more Belgian team that OPQS, this is the time of year that they *have* to be there.

    – Really strong performance by De Volder in Gent-Wevelgem and Lieuwe Westra wins on the same day in Barcelona. The legacy of Vacansoleil as enormous underachievers just keep on growing this way.

    • To be fair, I don’t think Lotto’s season hung in the balance of Greipel’s showing at RdV or PR. Roelandts and Gallopin both looked pretty strong in E3. (Though I’m still pissed they didn’t help Trek pull through to catch the front four.) Nothing quite as exciting as racing for 5th place!)

    • Lotto-Belisol are serial underperformers in the classics, regular whipping boys for the Belgian sports pages. This changed with Gilbert’s supreme 2011 season but, without looking it up, can you name a classic they won before or after this? Maybe we go back to Van Petegem or certainly Tchmil?

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