Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) took victory in a hard-fought edition of Ghent-Wevelgem, beating Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Matteo Trentin (CCC Team), and Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling) in a four-man sprint for the line.
Bettiol, Sénéchal, and Trentin escaped from a nine-man break group that also included Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) with 1.7km to go, with Pedersen then bridging the gap between the two-groups under the flamme rouge.
The leading four then launched their sprint simultaneously, with former world champion Pedersen by far the strongest as Sénéchal trailed in his wake and Bettiol and Trentin fell away. Pedersen was able to glide across the line arms aloft to take a clear victory in Wevelgem.
Race favourites Van Aert and Van der Poel finished eighth and ninth respectively from the break group after effectively marking each other out of the race in the final couple of kilometres.
How it happened
With over 230km on the cards in autumnal Belgium, riders face an attritional race at Ghent-Wevelgem 2020 which included three ascents of the steep, cobbled climb of the Kemmelberg.
An early break was able to force itself away after multiple attacks, with Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-McLaren), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Alexander Konychev (Mitchelton-Scott), Leonardo Basso (Ineos Grenadiers), Julien Morice (B&B Hotels), Kenny Molly (Bingoal) and Gilles De Wilde (Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise) all involved. They achieved a maximum gap of almost 7-30 by 140km to go.
The gap then began to quickly fall away as the main climbs of the day approached, with Jumbo-Visma doing a lot of damage in pegging the break back to around two minutes with 110km left to race.
The breakaway sustained that gap over the early climbs with the peloton not wanting to make the catch too early, but attacks with under 70km to go, including from Mathieu van der Poel, began to break the race up.
Van der Poel’s attack split the main peloton, with Wout van Aert forced into the chasing group behind. Van Aert’s group eventually made contact, but those moves and the increase in speed meant the break was caught with 66km to go.
That saw around 30-40 riders in the leading group, with some tentative moves to try and split the group up further.
An attack from Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) split the lead group with just over 60km to go and saw Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling), Luke Rowe (Ineos), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma), as well as Mads Pedersen, Stefan Küng, and Matteo Trentin get away.
They put in over a minute initially into the second group which contained Van der Poel and Van Aert with 55km to go to the finish.
The second group pressed to close the gap to the leaders with attacks over the second ascent of the Kemmelberg, dragging things back to around 30 seconds. Meanwhile, the big-name sprinters like defending champion Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) had been shelled out by this point and were left in a further chase group behind.
The chasers were able to bring the gap to the lead group down to just 15 seconds ahead of the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, with the bridge quickly being made on the climb itself as Van Aert and Van der Poel made a huge effort to get across with 34km to go.
That meant there were now 15 riders in front, with things more or less holding together bar some short-lived attacks.
Gianni Vermeersch crashed with 30km to go, meaning it was just 14-man group 1-15 ahead of Kristoff group with 20km left to the line.
Yves Lampaert started the attacking from the leaders in earnest with 16km remaining, but as he was pegged back Alberto Bettiol immediately countered. That move split the lead group, with six riders including Luke Rowe left behind.
The remaining nine out front worked well together to stretch their advantage until around 6km to go when those not suited to a sprint began to think about going long. With 50 seconds back to the chasers, there was more than enough time to play with for those out front.
The next attack came from Bettiol and Lampaert together with 5.2km to go, but that gap was closed by Degenkolb and Van Aert.
Van Aert held the pace with no one able to stick to his wheel, with Van der Poel than putting in a massive effort to bridge to his Belgian rival with 4.1km to go, dragging the group back together.
Küng then attacked immediately as the group reunited, but Van Aert once again made the chase with Florian Sénéchal and Bettiol in tow.
It was all together again with 2.7km left, with the decisive move then coming around a kilometre later. Trentin, Bettiol and Sénéchal were able to drift away with 1.7km remaining; Van Aert this time refusing to close the gap as he had before.
That gave an opportunity for Mads Pedersen to jump across as the chasers hesitated, making contact with the leading trio under the flamme rouge.
Van der Poel made an effort to try and drag the second group across, but with none of Lampaert, Degenkolb, Küng, or Van Aert willing to help him the chase delayed and it was clear that the four out front would sprint for the win. Van Aert also made one last effort to try and escape to join the leaders, but he was tracked by Dutch champion Van der Poel.
The four leaders approached the finish line together and almost simultaneously launched their sprints with just under 200m to go. Bettiol was the first to fade away with Trentin next to give up with the fatigue of the day foiling his effort. Though Sénéchal was able to stick to Pedersen’s wheel, there was nothing he could do to stop the Dane powering away and take his first Classics victory.
Ghent-Wevelgem 2020: Ghent to Wevelgem (232.5km)
1. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo, in 5-19-20
2. Florian Sénéchal (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
3. Matteo Trentin (Ita) CCC Team, all at same time
4. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Pro Cycling, at 1 second
5. Stefan Küng (Sui Groupama-FDJ, at 3s
6. John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto-Soudal, at 4s
7. Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at same time
8. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at 7s
9. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, at same time
10. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-McLaren, at 1-40