With Mark Cavendish skipping Gent-Wevelgem, HTC-Columbia team-mate Bernhard Eisel was free to fly to victory today in Belgium.
Eisel, one of Cavendish's key lead-out men took the sprint victory from a group of six after suffering the Kemmelberg climb and numerous attacks.
"I have not had a chance to see my phone yet, but he better send a message of congratulations," Austria's Eisel said jokingly of Cavendish.
Eisel worked for Cavendish in last Sunday's Milan-San Remo and helped Cavendish to many sprint wins last year, including six stages at the Tour de France. Cavendish, still coming to top form after tooth problems over the winter, skipped Gent-Wevelgem and raced the Volta a Catalonia, where he won his first race of the season.
Today's race became the perfect chance for Eisel to take his first win in a year and a half.
"HTC really look after all the riders," Eisel continued. "The said I was the captain this morning, but they also gave a chance to any of the younger guys."
Gent-Wevelgem celebrated its date change from Wednesday to Sunday with a modified race route. Eight climbs featured in a circuit, repeated twice, in the race's second half: Scherpenberg, Mont de Cats, Berthen, Mont Noir, Beneberg, Rodeberg, Monteberg and the staple climb, Kemmelberg.
Only 18 kilometres into the 210-kilometre race, four riders escaped and built up a lead of 3'50".
At the top of the Kemmelberg, 76 kilometres to race, the four led by 59 seconds over an exploding peloton. After the climb, Luca Paolini pulled clear a group of around ten in the cross-winds with Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions), George Hincapie (BMC Racing), five Liquigas riders and Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank).
They picked up the front four and led the race ahead of a second group with Sky's Greg Henderson, Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Philippe Gilbert (OmegaPharma-Lotto) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step).
Gilbert, Freire and Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) bridged to the front group to bring it up to 21 leaders with 54 kilometres to race.
Breschel pulled ahead a lead group of ten after the second time up the Kemmelberg: Breschel, Hincapie, Gilbert and Jürgen Roelandts (OmegaPharma-Lotto), Daniel Oss and Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Bernhard Eisel (HTC), Freire, Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) and Sep Vanmarcke (Topsport). They led by 28 seconds at 25 kilometres to race over Farrar, Paolini, Baden Cooke and Christian Knees.
Breschel looked the strongest, but he suffered from a flat tyre at 17 kilometres to race. He dropped back with the Farrar group, where Cooke started chasing hard, but in vain.
"He was the strongest," said Eisel. "I was sorry to see him lose out to a flat tyre. I wanted to wait but there was no way at that point because the others were closing from behind."
Eisel also benefited from Freire losing ground with Kuschynski and Iglinsky, and he now only feared Daniele Bennati's usual lead out man, Daniel Oss.
Vanmarcke struck first, he broke the rhythm with an attack at three kilometres remaining. Roelandts chased for Gilbert, caught Vanmarcke and continued to lead out with Oss and Eisel in tow. Hincapie started his sprint at 300 metres but he could not hold off his former team-mate, Eisel.
Vanmarcke finished second, Gilbert third and Hincapie held on for fourth.
"I knew that Eisel was watching Gilbert," said Hincapie," I wanted to risk it and see if one of them would let me go, but I didn't have the gas for the last metres."
Ghent-Wevelgem 2010, 219km
1. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC-Columbia in 5-16-21
2. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
4. George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team at same time
5. Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 2secs
6. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 7secs
7. Maksim Iglinski (Kaz) Astana at 51secs
8. Matti Breschel (Den) Saxo Bank at 1-01
9. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
10. Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at same time.
47. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at 11-46
DNF Adam Blyth (GB) Omega Pharma-Lotto
DNF Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo
Bernhard Eisel on his way to winning Ghent-Wevelgem
Spring Classics 2010: CW's coverage index
Ghent-Wevelgem route revamped
Ghent-Wevelgem: A worthy cobbled classics opener
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