The race was on from kilometer zero when the ongoing fight to make the breakaway saw the peloton cover a blistering 51 kilometers in the opening hour.
Crosswinds caused the peloton to split as they approached 200 kilometers to go and a 15-second advantage soon grew to a one-minute gap between the bunch with Van Avermaet and his CCC Team teammates, and a leading group of 20 riders, featuring many of the pre-race favorites.
With the threatening group ahead and multiple teams having missed the move, the peloton kept the group’s advantage to within 1’30”, with CCC Team contributing to the chase.
The gap stabilized around one-minute until the race entered the final 100 kilometers when the fast pace in the first 150 kilometers began to take its toll on both groups and the gap started to come down.
With 75 kilometers remaining, both the breakaway and peloton split on the Kemmelberg with Van Avermaet remaining well positioned, and as the peloton started to catch the dropped breakaway riders, the gap was down to just 20 seconds.
Only four riders (Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-SCOTT), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma)) remained in front with 65 kilometers to go and over the next 20 kilometers of racing, their advantage fluctuated between 30 and 45 seconds.
Luke Rowe (Team Sky) attacked from the bunch and made it across to the quartet with 44 kilometers to go, at which point Van Avermaet’s group was one minute behind as they approached the second ascent of the Baneberg and Kemmelberg.
As expected, attacks came on the Kemmelberg, where riders faced a maximum gradient of 25 percent, and at the top of the climb, Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo Visma) had a small gap and bridged to Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) who had gone clear in the kilometers before the climb.
The trio hovered in between the leading quintet and Van Avermaet’s group but with all of the climbs covered and a headwind in the finale, the groups started to come back together.
The quintet was caught inside 20 kilometers to go, setting the stage for an aggressive finale with attack after attack, in attempts to avoid a bunch sprint, from the multiple teams represented in the group of 28 riders.
Van Avermaet remained in the front, covering moves when necessary, and bringing back a last-ditch attempt from four riders in the final kilometers.
In the end, the race came down to a bunch sprint with Kristoff taking the win and Van Avermaet crossing the line in 20th place, 30 minutes ahead of the fastest predicted finish time.
Quotes from the Finish Line:
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was quite hectic at the beginning. We were in quite a good position but when the group went it was a bit of a strange situation because it was more of a tailwind and we were just too far back at this moment. There were three teams really making the big move so from there on, it was really hard for us to come back. I would rather directly be in the first group because then it’s an easier situation, but in the end, we still came back and we were able to do a good race I think. With a long race like this, there will always be a moment when the front group waits a bit and we were counting on this to come back, and it was also necessary because otherwise the race would be finished.”
“I was feeling really good all day. I was happy with my legs today. It’s a different race than E3 BinckBank Classic and it’s harder for me to win here. I tried to do as good as possible and I’m pretty happy with the climbs, I’m just a bit disappointed with my sprint as I should be able to do a top ten here but for several reasons, it’s never really working for me in a bunch sprint in Wevelgem.”
Valerio Piva, Sports Director:
“We knew from the beginning of the day that the wind would play a role early in the race. We were on the lookout for the early moves, especially if a big group went clear, but a lot of these moves were pulled back. Then, the crosswinds split the bunch and we missed the move which, of course, was a mistake. But, with 200 kilometers still to race we didn’t panic. There were quite a few teams that missed the front group or who were not really well represented so we had help with the chase. Greg stayed out of trouble and then on the first ascent of the Kemmelberg, he was in a good place to be on the right side of the split. In the end, with so many riders in the group and a lot of teams with multiple riders, it wasn’t possible to avoid a bunch sprint and see a few riders battle to the line as we saw in 2017 when Greg won. A lot of riders tried to, but with the last climb still 30 kilometers from the finish and a headwind in the finale, it was hard for any of the moves to stick. We don’t have a result today but Greg looked good so we can take confidence from that. It was a tough, tough race and when you look at how fast they raced the whole day, you see how hard it was.”
Gent-Wevelgem – In Flanders Fields
Deinze > Wevelgem (251.5km)
Top 3: 1. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), 2. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), 3. Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale)
CCC Team top 3: 20. Greg Van Avermaet, 64. Gijs Van Hoecke, 66. Michael Schär
Photos: Cor Vos