John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) added Ghent-Wevelgem to his ever-improving palmares in a tightly-contested sprint to the line.
Having won Paris-Tours and the Vattenfall Cyclassics last year, the German already has a proven pedigree in sprinters classics, and here he edged such high-profile riders as Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who finished second and third respectively.
Things could have been different, however, if a crash in the final few kilometres hadn’t taken out the fastest sprinter in the race, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
Griepel had – along with most of the other sprinters in the race – safely made it over all the climbs that decorate the second half of the day. Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) and Sagan had all applied pressure over the second accent of the Kemmelberg, but failed to cause any serious gaps in the peloton, with a large group of fifty or so riders all together in the run-in to the finish.
Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo), who reached the top of the Kemmelberg first having attacked the rest of the original break, was also caught.
Instead, it was an attack on the flat run-in to the finish that caused the sprinters’ teams most problems. Stijn Devolder (Trek), Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Silvan Dillier (BMC) did not look the most high-profile of breakaways, but together they managed to build a lead of 35 seconds, that the peloton was only able to reduce at an agonisingly slow rate.
Having worked well together throughout, this trio was – thanks largely to the powerful Omega Pharma-QuickStep riders who took to the front – eventually caught as the riders went under the kilometre to go banner. The sprint that ensued was a chaotic one, with no one team controlling it and with a crash occurring with 500 metres to go.
For a moment it looked as though Sagan would win, but, when Degenkolb and then Demare came flying past him, it became clear the Slovakian had made his move too early. Demare very nearly timed his sprint to perfection, but wasn’t quite strong enough to pass the big German on the line.
There was more misfortune for Sky, with Ian Stannard crashing into a ditch early on and having to be rushed to hospital. The extent of his injury is yet to be confirmed. Geraint Thomas, too, was involved in a crash.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2014, 233km
1. John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano
2. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
4. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin
5. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6. Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
7. Alexey Tsatevich (Rus) Katusha
8. Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Ag2r
9. Thor Hushovd (Nor) BMC Racing
10. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
Manx sprinter still aiming to put himself into Tour de France yellow jersey after Grand Depart in Yorkshire