Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski won the one-day WorldTour race ahead of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). Sky’s Ian Stannard attacked the chase group to take third place.
Meanwhile Debesay, 24, wandered the Flemish back roads in desperation.
“It’s an amazing story,” team sports director, Pierre Heynderickx told Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. “He fell behind a small group that decided to take back roads to Harelbeke around 20 kilometres from the finish. Debesay was afraid of becoming lost and decided to follow the course arrows to get to the finish. Unfortunately, he wandered from the correct path.”
Debesay won the Tour d’Algérie and the Tour of Eritrea before signing with Dimension Data ahead of 2016. The E3 Harelbeke marked his first WorldTour race, and it was one he will not forget.
He reached 206 kilometres on his computer, the race distance, but still had not arrived in Harelbeke. He turned to one of the many fans on bicycles riding along the same roads.
“‘Please, where’s Harelbeke?’ he said. That man suggested that they should go together to his home in Lierde,” Heynderickx added. “He let him take a shower, gave him fresh clothes and offered food to our hungry rider.”
Watch: Sky Sports Director on Kwiatkowski’s win
His team left for the Mercure Hotel in Roeselare, but were worried about their last man. Heynderickx called the police, the UCI’s race jury and the organisers.
“No one had any idea where he was. Then, suddenly, we received a phone call.”
Debesay covered around 240 kilometres and, 15 hours after he left, returned to the team’s hotel base in Roeselare.