Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won the 79th edition of this 249 km spring classic between Deinze (east Flanders) and Wevelgem (West Flanders) by outsprinting fellow breakaway rider and compatriot Jens Keukeleire with the chasing groups hot on their heels.
The race was decided on the last climb of the gruelling Kemmelberg, where Van Avermaet threw his cards on the table. A group of five took the offensive: Van Avermaet, Keukeleire, World Champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia), youngster Sören Kragh Andersen (Denmark) and Niki Terpstra (Netherlands) of the powerful Quick.Step team.
However, when Terpstra tried to skip his turn in the breakaway group and refused to do his part of the work at the head of the group, Sagan tried to force him by waiting for him to move. But the result was that Van Avermaet and Keukeleire swiftly moved away (picture). Sagan called Terpstra's attitude "a very cheap game" speaking after the race.
Battling against the wind
In a tense finale, both groups had an intense battle against the wind fighting for each second; the gap was hardly some 10 seconds. In the end, Van Avermaet and Keukeleire prevailed and Olympic Champion Van Avermaet won it, despite starting the sprint in first position.
Greg Van Avermaet is the big favourite for the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. The East Fleming (31) used to find it so hard to win a race despite riding in front a lot of times, but the tables have turned since last season, when he was shining in the Tour of France and won the Olympic road race. "It used to be so difficult for me to win a race. Now it's so easy, I mean, not simple, but the victories just keep coming in."
A first since Jan Raas
This season, Van Avermaet won the cobble classics Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Gent-Gent), E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Sagan, last year's winner, took third place. Van Avermaet is the first rider since Dutchman Jan Raas in 1981 to win the triple Omloop-Harelbeke-Wevelgem.
Gent-Wevelgem has a flat start, before taking in a number of hills in the south of West Flanders, the most renowned being the steep cobble-stone Kemmelberg hill (which has to climbed twice). The finale is more or less flat, and leaves the riders fighting for each second against the wind in the wind-swept fields of Flanders.
The edition made several references to the First World War. The peloton passed several war landmarks and also had to deal with the Plugstreets, unpaved gravel roads named after Plugstreet, the name given to the village of Ploegsteert by the English.