The win may have been missing, but Wout van Aert says Jumbo-Visma created the perfect situation for themselves at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.
The defending champion was active in trying to create splits in the bunch on the three ascents of the Kemmelberg, but despite his displays of phenomenal power he was unable to make the decisive move of the race.
Instead, it was his team-mate (and the man he rode with to an impressive victory at E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday) Christophe Laporte who broke clear with three others with 24km to go from a much-reduced peloton, which had been bruised by Van Aert's stinging attack on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg.
With the Belgian champion waiting in the wings in the peloton at around 30 seconds behind, along with team-mate Tiesj Benoot, the situation looked ideal for Jumbo-Visma with Laporte perhaps the most accomplished sprinter amongst a group containing Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux), and Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies).
The Frenchman was undone by Girmay however, who launched a long-sprint and held off the closing-in Laporte to take a historic victory. Despite having to settle for the runner-up spot, Van Aert says the team can be satisfied with another strong, dominant performance in the Classics season.
“We rode a good race and can look back with satisfaction,” Van Aert said. ”I might have hoped for a little better legs today, but we rode for the win with the whole team. The Kemmelberg is a difficult climb, but not long. As a result, the time differences remained small.
"Behind us were a lot of teams interested in the sprint and they regrouped quickly, so it was impossible to stay away. The fact that in the final Christophe rode away in a small group led to a perfect situation. The only blemish is that we just missed the win.”
Laporte, who has impressed in his first months with the Dutch team, reflected with somewhat more regret on missing what would have been his biggest career victory to date, suggesting he should have started his sprint earlier after running out of road to catch Girmay before the line.
“It was close. I was surprised by Girmay's move," Laporte said of the final sprint. "He took a gap of several metres and it was difficult to close it. Maybe I made a mistake by not starting my sprint earlier. At the moment deception prevails because I felt strong enough to win. My second place on Friday in Harelbeke cannot be compared with this one, as we did win the race as a team then.
“I escaped to put the team in a good position,” he continued.
“We wanted to make the race hard, but we weren't the only ones. In the end we can't win every race, but you don't always get such a great chance to win a Classic.”
Laporte will line up next at another one-day race in which he has recorded a second place, the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. Both he and Van Aert will line-up for the second Monument of the year, the Tour of Flanders next Sunday, where the team will be all in to deliver the win for Van Aert.
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