Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has won the 75th edition of Gent-Wevelgem.
Borut Bozic (Astana) led home the chasing group some 23 seconds after Sagan had wheelied across the finish line, the Slovenian winning a sprint ahead of BMC Racing’s Greg Van Avermaet.
Sagan had launched his bid for victory with four kilometres to go after attacks by Heinrich Hausler (IAM Cycling) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) were brought to nought.
Organisers were forced to alter the route, chopping the opening 50km and setting the riders loose at Gistel rather than from the sign-on area at Deinze.
The decision to hold the race in bitterly cold conditions drew complaints from the riders, among them, Hausler, who ironically became one of the more active participants, perhaps in an attempt to keep warm.
German by name, but Australian by birth and sporting temperament, the former Garmin-Sharp man chased down a three-strong breakaway including Assan Bazayev (Astana), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil), and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ).
He was quickly joined by Sagan, and one of Team Sky’s Classics strongmen, Bernhard Eisel, as well as by Bozic, Avermaet, Andrey Amador (Movistar), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Jaroslov Popovich (Radioshack), Vandenbergh and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol).
The 12-strong breakaway swiftly built a 90-second advantage, drawing a response from OPQS, ostensibly riding for Mark Cavendish after the Belgian squad’s Classics leader, Tom Boonen, abandoned the race after a nasty crash.
Tornado Tom’s departure followed that of another of the contenders, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), who withdrew at a feed station 70km from the finish. The Swiss had won Friday’s E3 Harelbeke.
A peloton driven by Blanco Pro Cycling and Lotto-Belisol, riding for sprinters, Mark Renshaw and Andre Greipel respectively, rode with greater urgency in the last 10km, finally sensing the strength of the breakaway.
Flecha, a specialist on the Flandrian cobbles, and whose early attack launched the breakaway, drove his small band of confederates onward, but received little support until the five kilometre to go kite, when Haussler launched his doomed attack.
With the peloton gaining speed and confidence, the breakaway looked set to fail. Vandenbergh was the next to attack, but soon found himself chased down by Flecha and Sagan.
While the Spaniard regrouped, however, Sagan kicked again, launching an assault that could not be countered. The scale of his victory – a 23-second winning margin attained within four kilometres – gives in an insight into its effect on the morale of his breakaway companions.
Sagan’s victory celebrations reached new heights as he wheelied across the line, and with a Classics victory to add his Tour de France green jersey and a host of WorldTour stage wins, there can be little doubt that he holds a place among cycling’s biggest stars.
Gent-Wevelgem 2013 – result
1) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale Pro Cycling- 4.29.10
2) Borut Bozic (SLO) – Astana +23”
3) Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing
4) Heinrich Haussler (AUS) – IAM Cycling
5) Juan Antonio Flecha (SPA) – Vacansoleil-DCM
6) Matthieu Ladagnous (FRA) – FDJ
7) Bernhard Eisel (AUT) – Team Sky
8) Stijn Vandenbergh (BEL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +24”
9) Yaroslav Popovych (UKR) – RadioShack-Leopard
10) Andrei Amador (CRC) – Movistar