Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) shrugs when he hears Peter Sagan and Niki Terpstra complaining about the race tactics today in Ghent-Wevelgem. He can afford to as he rode clear and won while they were questioning each other.
Quick-Step's Terpstra, with 16 kilometres to race to Wevelgem, eased off behind Van Avermaet and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) after team Bora-Hansgrohe's world champion finished his pull on the front of a five-man group. An initial small gap turned into the winning margin for Van Avermaet, who still has unopened bottles of Kwaremont beer at home from his E3 Harelbeke victory on Friday.
He celebrated his victory ahead of Keukeleire on the podium and pedalled his bicycle to the pressroom to speak with waiting journalists.
"You'd better work until three kilometres from the finish and maybe save some energy from there, instead of whining and waiting," Van Avermaet explained.
"At three kilometres from the finish, it's possible to go off the gas, but beforehand, I worked to stay ahead and win the race."
Van Avermaet forced a winning move when he attacked on the final Kemmelberg climb at 34 kilometres remaining. Sagan and others followed to create a 14-man move.
That move split again to five with Van Avermaet, Keukeleire, Sagan, Terpstra and Dane Søren Andersen (Sunweb). Terpstra and Andersen played a tactical card that failed by whispering how they had sprinters – Fernando Gaviria and Michael Matthews – waiting in the chase group behind.
"Niki and Andersen were doing half-pulls," continued Van Avermaet. "Before I did way too much work too, but I prefer to ride along in the group over getting annoyed and having to close a gap. I tried to keep cool and maybe did a bit too much work in the group of fourteen, but I was pleased that we were away to be in the group of five."
Five turned to two when tactics failed Van Avermaet's rivals. Only Keukeleire contributed all the way to the end of the 249.2-kilometre classic.
"I was just doing my pull in front, when [Sports Director] Fabio Baldato was shouting in my ear that we were now in two. From there we kept going flat out," Van Avermaet continued. "I preferred to ride to the finish with Jens then to do it with the three others."
Van Avermaet had sympathy for Sagan and another laugh at the tactical games.
"Sagan's certainly doing his share of the work, but he's certainly not one of the biggest wheel suckers," he added. "Some others do drag along and that can be annoying."
The games will likely continue next Sunday, when the big stars will meet for the Tour of Flanders.
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