The Team Sky rider was using the race as a build up in race conditions to Paris-Roubaix on April 12. The gusts off the North Sea, reported as up to 80kph, forced him and many others to an early finish.
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Geraint Thomas could not control his bike in the wind and fell on his back on the grass beside the road. He continued and finished third. Christian Knees came in 29th. Sky’s other cyclists, like Wiggins, were marked as DNF.
“It was a hectic and dramatic day, like a big battlefield,” the team’s sports director, Servais Knaven, said.
“[Getting the race miles in is important], but at a certain moment, if you are no longer in position and everybody stops then there’s not much you can do. That’s the circumstances.”
He was not alone; 160 riders abandoned. Many left with broken bones, including 2009 winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka).
Only 39 riders, led by Italian Luca Paolini (Katusha), made it to the finish.
Wiggins has set himself a goal of winning Paris-Roubaix, his last race in Team Sky’s colours before quitting to focus on the track. He tailored the start of his 2015 to be ready for this aim.
He began his season in the Tour of Qatar in February, helped Ian Stannard win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and raced six of the seven days in Paris-Nice.
Then came the first snag in his Paris-Roubaix run-up. As Ghent-Wevelgem turned south and travelled along the Belgian/French border, cross-winds ripped the peloton to bits. Wiggins was one of the race’s first casualties.
The race organiser reported that he abandoned after about 100km of the 239km Classic, shortly after the detour into France and just before the first climb in Cassel.
The rhythm of a race is something that a rider can barely replicate by riding hours behind a motorbike in training. Knaven said that Wiggins would just have to forget about what happened, train today for two and a half hours around Sky’s base in Kortrijk, Belgium, and look towards the Three Days of De Panne starting tomorrow.
“He’ll have three days to see how he is,” Knaven added. “That’s important for us, too. To see where his level is.”
Other Classics stars aiming for Paris-Roubaix have raced more one-day events in the lead-up.
Belgian Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) raced Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and E3 Harelbeke, and finished sixth in Ghent-Wevelgem. Czech champion Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) placed 38th yesterday and raced the same races plus Milan-San Remo.
Wiggins only has three more races before Paris-Roubaix: De Panne, the Tour of Flanders and Scheldeprijs. Sky’s leader for the Tour of Flanders, Thomas, explained that Wiggins will “get by”.
“[Ghent-Wevelgem yesterday was] not his sort of race, that’s for sure — the wind, the tensions and the stress,” Thomas told Cycling Weekly. “I think he can manage to still get by.”