Having finished second last year, Christophe Laporte prevailed in grisly weather at Gent-Wevelgem with the help of his Jumbo-Visma team-mate Wout van Aert.
It was a trademark show of dominance from the Dutch team in Flanders. Van Aert and Laporte attacked together on the penultimate ascent of the Kemmelberg and swapped through turns for 52km. Drawing out a two-minute gap, the pair rode arm in arm into Wevelgem to secure an impressive one-two, the Frenchman's wheel crossing the line first.
For onlookers, there were echoes of last year’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic, where the same duo rode away in tandem, that time for the Belgian to win.
Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech) won the bunch sprint for third to complete the podium at the Belgian Classic.
How it happened
Wrapped in gilets, rain capes and leg warmers, the peloton rolled out from beneath the arches of Ypres’s Menin Gate, embarking on a 260.9km route through West Flanders. They would face nine tough hellingen en route to Wevelgem, including three ascents of the mighty Kemmelberg.
The race started fast. With the first climb not expected for 165km, a five-man breakaway formed, featuring Groupama-FDJ’s Lewis Askey, and cruised at 46.5km/h for the first two hours. Two chasing groups then joined, swelling the breakaway to 14 riders after the first 100km.
At the race’s halfway point, Soudal Quick-Step drove splits in the bunch, taking advantage of the wind which tore across the open country plains. A few crashes came here, with Łukasz Wiśniowski (EF Education-EasyPost), Michał Kwiatkowski and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadies) all forced to withdraw.
Reigning champion Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) was also among those who hit the deck, but the Eritrean was able to remount his bike and catch back up with the peloton.
When the climbs finally arrived, the breakaway held an advantage of just one and a half minutes.
Over the bergs, tyres skipped across the wet cobbles, the riders’ faces unrecognisable with dirt. The peloton soon began to thin out, and the attackers were reeled back in with 55km to go, on the approach to the final five climbs.
On the penultimate ascent of the Kemmelberg, the sixth of the day's nine climbs, Van Aert launched the race-winning move, flanked by team-mate Christophe Laporte. Behind, a small group attempted to chase, but couldn’t break free from the peloton.
The Jumbo-Visma duo led by a minute onto the final climb - the tougher, steeper side of the Kemmelberg - where Van Aert began to distance Laporte. The Frenchman then clung on as his team-mate hurtled through the flat roads, stretching out their advantage to over two minutes towards Wevelgem.
Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates) tried to attack on the run-in to the town, but neither could distance themselves from the chase.
Having won the E3 Saxo Bank Classic earlier in the week, Van Aert was content to sit back and let Laporte edge for his first victory of the season.
Smiling, the duo gestured towards each other as they came across the line. The history books will list Laporte as the winner, but the victory was certified Jumbo-Visma.
Gent-Wevelgem 2023 (260.9km)
1. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Jumbo-Visma, in 5-49-39
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, s.t.
3. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel-Premier Tech
4. Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Dstny
5. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
6. Mikkel Bjerg (Den) UAE Team Emirates, all at 1-56
7. Alexis Renard (Fra) Cofidis
8. Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
9. Danny van Poppel (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Dan McLay (GBr) Team Arkéa Samsic, all at 2-04
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