German John Degenkolb’s emotions came out today after winning Ghent-Wevelgem. He expressed his disappointment in Milan-San Remo and his joy in sprinting ahead of the field in the small Flemish city of Wevelgem.
“I lived through the most disappointing day of my cycling career last Sunday in San Remo,” Degenkolb said in a press conference. “Everything went 100 per cent better for me today. I am very happy to win this race.”
The 25-year-old added of team Giant-Shimano added Ghent-Wevelgem to his list of one-day races including Paris-Tours and Vattenfall Cyclassics. It is not a monument, but one of the big cobbled classics and one that even Cavendish has yet to add to his palmarès.
Degenkolb adds his name to a list that includes Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire and Eddy Merckx. Peter Sagan won last year and today lost out in the sprint and placed third. Arnaud Démare finished second.
Sagan and Cavendish sprinted for the win in Sanremo last week. Degenkolb climbs just as strongly if not better. He should have been in the sprint but puncture ahead of the Poggio climb spoilt his dream.
“It’s been a long time since I was sitting on the bike and tears came out of my eyes. That was such a big disappointment,” Degenkolb explained. He turned emotional when recalling Milan-Sanremo seven days later.
“The next two or three days after that was a bitter pill to swallow. You prepare the whole winter for that one race, and you know you have the legs to be there, that you’re strong enough, then something like that happens in the end, that is not your decision.”
The friendly German and former policeman showed his strength two days ago by making the final group over the Oude Kwaremont in E3 Harelbeke. Only Sagan’s attack on the next climb eliminated him from the group with two Omega Pharma riders and Sky’s Geraint Thomas.
He sought revenge in Ghent-Wevelgem, 233 kilometres from Deinze in Ghent’s outskirts and through the battlefields of World War 1 to reach Wevelgem. He survived the Kemmelberg climb, the crashes that eliminated André Greipel, Ian Stannard and others, and led a group of 79 riders over the line.
“The final was very hectic. There was a big crash with eight kilometres to go, when Tyler Farrar and André Greipel were there,” Degenkolb explained. “I just saw Farrar lying there, with his hands protecting his head. I was lucky not to crash. Koen de Kort dropped me on Sagan’s wheel for the sprint.”
Degenkolb did the rest. He intends to be at the front again in the Belgium’s biggest cobbled classic next Sunday, the Tour of Flanders.
“You cannot compare today to Flanders, [which is a] hard race and a difficult finish. The favourites are Sagan, Cancellara, Boonen,” he said. “I’m going to go 100 per cent on Sunday. It’s the Ronde, it’s one of the biggest races in the world.”
The pre-race favourite crashed heavily with eight kilometres remaining.
Images from the 2014 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem, won by John Degenkolb on Sunday, March 30. By Graham Watson
German sprinter John Degenkolb survives the bergs and crashes to win in Belgium