John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) bounced back from “the most disappointing day” of his career to open his Spring Classics account with victory in Gent-Wevelgem.
The German punctured at the foot of the Poggio to miss out on a shot at glory at Milan-San Remo last Sunday but, seven days later, outsprinted Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) and defending champion Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to win in Wevelgem.
A late crash eight kilometres from the finish line brought down a number of riders including Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, third at E3-Harelbeke on Thursday, and sprinters Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), before another pile-up inside the final kilometre – and it was Degenkolb who emerged from the melee to claim the biggest one-day win of his career to date.
“This race is one of the really big Classics and I am so happy to add Gent-Wevelgem to my honours,” said Degenkolb. “The race worked out perfectly for us. The guys were really strong and Dries Devenyns did a great job chasing towards the end. He is really strong at the moment.
“Koen de Kort positioned me perfectly in the final, driving me onto Sagan’s wheel and I had the right position and could come through at the right time so it was a fantastic sprint.
“Last weekend at Milan-San Remo was probably one of the most disappointing moments of my career. Today everything went 100 per cent better than last week so I can forget about that disappointment now. “My shape is good and this is a good sign for the next big races.”
Gent-Wevelgem is often considered the sprinters’ Classic and Mark Cavendish has long stated his desire to win the race, one of the few sprinter-friendly races missing from the Manx Missile’s palmares, but the Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider was absent from the start sheet having come down with an illness following Milan-San Remo.
A five-man break went clear early in the race, with Sebastian Lander (BMC Racing), Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), Marcel Aregger (IAM Cycling) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Group Gobert) allowed to quickly open up an advantage of some ten minutes.
However, that gap began to fall after the first climb of the day, Mont Cassel, and stood at just three minutes ahead of the first of two laps of a circuit which included the ascents of the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg.
Lander was the first rider dropped from the lead group and Boaro attacked his remaining escapees on the second circuit and led the race until being caught by the chasing group at the top of the Monteberg with approximately 35km of racing remaining.
All the pre-race favourites remained in the lead group on the run-in to the finale, prompting Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing) to attack from the peloton, with Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) and Andrey Amador (Movistar) joining the Swiss rider.
The trio built up a lead of half-a-minute with 12km remaining, with Garmin-Sharp, Saxo-Tinkoff and Omega Pharma-QuickStep leading the charge from the peloton, before a crash eight kilometres from Wevelgem disrupted the chase while also ending the hopes of Greipel, who suffered a suspected broken collarbone, and Farrar.
Dillier, Devolder and Amador continued to work well together and the advantage remained at 30 seconds with five kilometres to go but the catch finally came as the race entered the final kilometre, where another crash disrupted the run-in to the line.
Sagan came out of the chaos and was first to launch his sprint but Degenkolb edged past the Slovak to take the win and add his name to a list of winners which includes Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who finished fifth on the day behind Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin Pro Cycling), Mario Cipollini and Eddy Merckx.
Gent-Wevelgem 2014 – result
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 5:34:37 hours
2) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ.fr – same time
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale Pro Cycling
4) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Belkin Pro Cycling
5) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6) Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL) – Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
7) Alexey Tsatevich (RUS) – Katusha
8) Yauheni Hutarovich (BLR) – Ag2r La Mondiale
9) Thor Hushovd (NOR) – BMC Racing
10) Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol