Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) proved the fastest of a four-man group to become the first African winner of Gent-Wevelgem.
The 21-year-old Eritrean launched his sprint early, but held off Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) to top the podium in Wevelgem.
The race, the second of the six spring Classics held in the cycling heartlands of Flanders, was shaken up by last year's winner, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). The Belgian champion broke free over the final climb, but was reeled in by the peloton who were ultimately outwitted by the four escapees.
Girmay's historic victory comes just two days after he took an assured fifth place at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday.
How it happened
The 248.9km route rolled north out of Ypres on a flat loop through the First World War battlefields. After 152km, the riders would tackle a circuit of nine hellingen, including three passes over the iconic Kemmelberg. Once the final climb had been crested, a 34km run-in to the finish line would remain to decide the winner.
It took over 30km of racing for the breakaway to form. The seven-man group, composed of Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Alexander Konychev (BikeExchange-Jayco), Nikias Arndt (DSM), Ludovic Robeet (Bingoal-Pauwels Sauces-WB), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Lars Saugstad (Uno-X) and Johan Jacobs (Movistar), quickly stretched out a gap of over five minutes to the peloton.
A few mechanical mishaps provided the only real action in the first three hours of racing. The riders, so often affected in this Classic by strong wind gusts and grim weather conditions, enjoyed a Sunday morning spin in the sun.
With 105km to go, the peloton was dealt a wake-up call when a crash split the pack, leaving some with grazed elbows and ripped shorts. The riders had avoided the ‘death ridge’ that separates the concrete slabs of the road, but came unstuck when a narrow lane pinched the width of the group, causing those on the flanks to tumble into the grass ditch.
The pace accelerated on the approach to the Scherpenberg, the first of the steep inclines, as Bahrain Victorious and Jumbo-Visma battled for control on the front. The breakaway’s advantage was slashed to less than two minutes, and Van Aert came through to lead the peloton over the initial climbs.
Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) then tore the peloton apart on the first descent of the Kemmelberg, forming a group of 18 riders. Of the early escapees, only Jacobs was able to withstand the chasing group, and maintained a gap of just a handful of seconds through the three unpaved ‘plugstreets’.
The peloton regrouped with 56km remaining and five punchy climbs still to be conquered. Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Van Aert were the first to crest the Kemmelberg on the second pass of the cobbled climb, but were unable to shake off the sprinters at this stage.
The final climb of the day came in the more challenging eastern ascent of the Kemmelberg. Angled at an average gradient of 9.2%, with pitches reaching 23%, the ramp provided the perfect launch pad for the Belgian champion. Van Aert gained a few seconds on his rivals, who caught him on the descent to form an eight-man group that included his Jumbo-Visma teammates Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte.
The race leaders, however, were soon caught. With 24km to go, Laporte went on the attack with Girmay, Stuyven and Van Gestel. The four riders hurtled under the 10km banner with an advantage of 37 seconds.
Into the final 5km of the race, the reduced group continued to co-operate well to hold off the chasers. Girmay, having hovered behind his rivals in the final kilometre, opened his sprint with 250m to go and kicked powerfully through the pedals, beyond his fellow escapees.
As he crossed the line, The Eritrean raised his arms aloft to celebrate his first victory at WorldTour level and a historic first for Africa in the Belgian Classic.
Gent-Wevelgem 2022: Ypres to Wevelgem (248.9km)
1. Biniam Girmay (Eri) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, in 5-37-57
2. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Jumbo-Visma
3. Dries Van Gestel (Bel) TotalEnergies
4. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
5. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team DSM, at 8s
6. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
7. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
8. Iván García Cortina (Spa) Movistar Team
9. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain Victorious
10. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
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