Gent-Wevelgem 2014: five observations
John Degenkolb bounces back as Peter Sagan misses chance to make it two from two
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) bounced back from his Milan-San Remo disappointment by flying to victory at Gent-Wevelgem.
But while Degenkolb, who outsprinted Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to win the "sprinters' Classic" was celebrating a day to remember, heavy crashes made it one to forget for many others.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) was among the major casualties, suffering a broken collarbone and torn ligaments having been well-placed to win before his late crash.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) emerged unscathed from a crash of his own, but team-mate Ian Stannard suffered a back injury after falling into a ditch.
Sagan, of course, stayed upright but he too will rue a missed opportunity after being beaten in a sprint once more and being unable to follow up his E3 Harelbeke victory with a second straight Gent-Wevelgem win.
Nevertheless, for Sagan, and another rider in green – Belkin’s Sep Vanmarcke – the signs are good as they build towards the Monuments of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
What else did we learn from the 2014 edition of Gent-Wevelgem? Read our five observations from over the following pages.
[part title="Andre Greipel – bad news"]
The form rider of the early part of the season, big things were expected of Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) over the coming months.
Six victories so far in 2014, and plenty more encouraging performances beside, had already seen the German marked as a major contender for Gent-Wevelgem, with the possibility of a leading role at the Tour of Flanders having proved himself to be no fool when it comes to powering over short, sharp ascents.
And Greipel was well on the way to proving that having been in a strong position to win Gent-Wevelgem late in the race.
But Greipel's crash not only denied the 31-year-old a shot at victory – which given his form earlier in the season you would not have bet against – but it also throws into doubt the rest of his season’s goals.
The Gorilla will be desperate to get back to full fitness in time for the Tour de France, but team officials have already ruled him out until at least the summer, and with no guarantee of form come July, his return to the podium is far from certain.
[part title="Geraint Thomas – near miss"]
Geraint Thomas kicked off his 2014 Classics campaign with a classy ride at E3 Harelbeke, with his acceleration on the Oude Kwaremont forming the race-winning attack and his strong work to keep Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) in check rewarded with a podium finish.
However, the Welshman's Classics season was almost over as quickly as it started as he was one of many riders to hit the deck at Gent-Wevelgem. Luckily, and unlike his Sky team-mate, Ian Stannard, Thomas was able to bounce back up from the roadside and rolled in some eight minutes after the leading riders.
Thomas has proven before, not least at last year’s Tour de France, that it takes more than just a slight knock – or hairline pelvic fracture, as the case was last July – to keep him down. But with genuine ambitions for the Tour of Flanders, the sight of the 27-year-old picking himself up and remounting his bike – with team officials later confirming the all clear – was a very welcome one for British fans.
Well I'm glad to get through that day in one piece!! Stress and crashes galore!! I just don't understand the risks some guys take #chill
— Geraint Thomas (@GeraintThomas86) March 30, 2014
[part title="John Degenkolb – determination"]
John Degenkolb’s spirited defence of the leader’s jersey at Paris-Nice – earned on the stage three, before he bravely sought to keep hold of it on the altogether punchier stage four – showed why Giant-Shimano chose to back the German to lead their Classics team at Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem.
Comfortable on short, sharp climbs, Degenkolb was earmarked as a contender for Milan-San Remo but missed his shot at victory after puncturing at the foot of the Poggio. He called it the "most disappointing day" of his career.
But he showed great grit and determination to bounce straight back. Perhaps overlooked for Gent-Wevelgem thanks to the form of the likes of defending champion Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Degenkolb stormed to victory after emerging from the incident-packed finale to celebrate the biggest one-day victory of his career.
Giant-Shimano, thanks also to Luka Mezgec’s hat-trick of wins at the Volta a Catalunya, have enjoyed quite a week and Degenkolb’s victory caps it.
[part title="Peter Sagan – missed opportunity"]
When he announced he would be riding Paris-Roubaix in 2014, Peter Sagan ambitiously targeted a clean sweep of the cobbled Classics, a la Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) in 2012.
After ticking off the first race on his hit list by winning at E3 Harelbeke from the break, Sagan's odds of doing just that shortened significantly, but Gent-Wevelgem saw the Slovak beaten by a rider with a bigger sprint than his.
Winner by a country mile in 2013 – such a distance that he wheelied over the finish line – Sagan was reminded once again that he is always in danger if it comes to a sprint.
Sagan has recorded wins at E3-Harelbeke, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Oman so far this season, but he has also registered a run of near-misses (with seven other visits to the podium), and while second and third places shouldn't be scoffed at, the Cannondale rider can't always rely on his fast finish if it comes down to a bunch gallop.
[part title="Sep Vanmarcke – encouraging start"]
Sep Vanmarcke was beaten both physically and mentally after missing out to Fabian Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix last year.
The Belgian admitted the memory of Spartacus outsprinting him in the Roubaix velodrome will stay with him for some time but, consequently, the Belkin rider is a man on a mission this time out and has made an encouraging start to the cobbled Classics season.
With the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on the horizon, Vanmarcke added fourth place at Gent-Wevelgem to fifth – having sprinted from the chasing group – at E3 Harelbeke.
Prior to this week, Vanmarcke also came in fourth at the Omloop and third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. All of which bodes well for the 25-year-old ahead of the two Monuments to come. All eyes will be on Messrs. Sagan, Boonen and Cancellara but write Sep Vanmarcke off at your peril.