Heroic wind-battered Gent-Wevelgem: "One for the history books"

The 77th edition of the cycle race Gent-Wevelgem, one of the traditional spring classics, was won by Italy's Luca Paolini. However, the race will mainly be remembered by the harsh weather conditions. Riders were blown off their bikes due to a hard wind and there was the continuous rain. One of the VRT's cycling analysts, former rider Eddy Planckaert, said it was one of the most heroic, impressive and nail-biting races he had ever seen. "One for the history books", commentators agreed. Only 39 riders out of a couple of hundred made it to the finish line.
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Gent-Wevelgem took the riders from Deinze (East Flanders) to Wevelgem (West Flanders) over a 240 km course that included some tough climbs, a section in Northern France and the gruelling (double) cobble stone climb of the Kemmelberg.

38-year-old veteran Paolini made a V-sign after the flash interview just after the finish. This was also a victory of the head, he explained, meaning that you should always believe in your chances, even when it seems you are beaten, and never give up.

Before crossing the finish line, the veteran rider from the Katusha Team pointed to both his head and his legs. He was the smartest guy in the final, when he outsmarted 5 other breakaway riders to start a solo effort to Wevelgem, West Flanders.

Roelandts was the big hero of the day

The hero of the day in a wind-swept race was probably Belgium's Jurgen Roelandts. He accelerated some 80 km from the finish line, starting a huge solo effort. Considered to be a mission impossible at the start, his effort continued, as he stood strong and looked set for a heroic win. Roelandts had used up too many forces though. His demise started at the final climb of the steep Kemmelberg and he was eventually caught after a solo of some 60 km, 17 km before the finish line.

The 7-men breakaway group next started a tactical battle for victory. These were the riders in front, apart from winner Paolini: Etixx had two riders in front: Stijn Vandenbergh and Dutchman Niki Terpstra. Sky had Welshman Geraint Thomas, who remained in front despite a fall as he was blown off the road (see video).

Lotto had both the Belgian champion Jens Debusschere and Roelandts in front, but Roelandts was of no use to his team mate as he had no fuel left in his tank. The last man in the breakaway group was Belgium's Sep Vanmarcke of Lotto-Jumbo.

Britain's Bradley Wiggins abandoned the race even before the final, just like many other riders. Wiggins called on organiser Frank Hoste to neutralise the race when the going got really tough in the wind-swept planes of the 'Moeren', but his wish was not honoured.  Mark Cavendish had technical problems at that crucial moment and would also abandon the race.

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The top-10

1. Luca Paolini

2. Niki Terpstra +11

3. Geraint Thomas +11

4. Stijn Vandenbergh +18

5. Jens Debusschere +26

6. Sep Vanmarcke +40

7. Jurgen Roelandts +1:52

8. Daniel Oss (Italy) +4:15

9. Alexander Kristoff (Norway) +5:12

10. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) +5:12