Greg Van Avermaet's dominance; Attackers win; Sagan's had enough; and more talking points from 2017 Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, March 26
Greg Van Avermaet remains the man to beat
It was a familiar sight to see the pair take to the front at the race’s key moment, the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, and again when the lead group split with around 20km to go. But when Van Avermaet slipped off the front to form the final selection with around 15km to go, it was Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott), not Sagan, who joined him.
By executing his superior finish in the two-man sprint, Van Avermaet became only the second rider ever (along with Jan Raas) to win the hat-trick of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem in the same season. Where once he was renowned for reliably making the podium but rarely the top spot, now he possesses a ruthless killer instinct – it would take a bold punter to bet against him making it a quadruple at the Tour of Flanders next week.
Attackers get the better of the sprinters again
The one overarching pattern that has developed this spring has been attackers getting the better of sprinters.
Small, select groups making to the finish in races like Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Strade Bianche is nothing new, but even races that traditionally favour sprinters like Milan-San Remo and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne have seen successful breakaways this season.
The same applied for the usually sprinter-friendly Ghent-Wevelgem, which split into pieces in the latter part of the race even without the assistance of any crosswinds. A frustrated John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) – one of the sprinters to have suffered from the lack of bunch finishes this sprint – tried to take things into his own hands by following Van Avermaet’s acceleration, but still ended up dropped.
For him, along with other fast-men like Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Ghent-Wevelgem goes down as another missed opportunity.
Peter Sagan has had enough of towing other riders.
Sagan was irate at the post-race interview, criticising Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) for not wanting to work with him despite having attacked to get into the breakaway, and describing his antics as ‘a very cheap game’.
The incident occurred with around 15km to go, when Terpstra refused Sagan’s prompt for him to take a turn, he two riders, along with Sunweb’s Soren Kragh Andersen, found themselves in a stalemate, and saw their two other breakaway companions Van Avermaet and Keukeleire drift away up the road.
They soon regretted this piece of gamesmanship and began working together again as a trio, but the damage had already been done and leading pair too far up the road for them to catch.
Their misstep suggests that other riders needs to overcome their fear of Sagan if they are to be successful, and Sagan needs to learn how to cope with the unwillingness of others to work with him.
The new dirt roads didn’t have much of an impact
Despite all the pre-race controversy, the three stretches of gravelled ‘Plugstreet’ roads came and went without much incident.
No riders crashed on either the 2.1km, 1.3km or 600 metre sections, and the few attacks that did go away were all reeled in without too much hassle.
It could be argued that the extra difficulty of these sections was enough to tilt the balance in favour of the escapees over the sprinters, but it seems likely the race would have played out in much the same way even without them.
The monuments to WW1 that lined the roads were nevertheless impressive, and drew large crowds and contributed to a lively atmosphere.
Team car cams were a welcome addition to the television coverage
One of the most fun aspects of watching this year’s Ghent-Wevelgem was the glimpse into some of the team cars out on the road, thanks to cameras wired onto dashboards.
We saw an animated Trek-Segafredo car shout through the radio for John Degenkolb to commit when he got into a break, and a resigned Lotto-Soudal car realising they had missed the decisive split.
The best and most entertaining was surely Katusha’s, however, who went from enthusiastically egging on Tony Martin as he went on the attack, to lamenting a crash that ended his chances and a puncture that ended Alexander Kristoff’s.
It was an insight into how a team’s fortunes in a spring classic can shift drastically in a very short period of time.