Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sagan Solos Away for Crafty Gent-Wevelgem Victory

 Cannondale rider foils breakaway companions

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) soloed to the win in the 2013 Gent-Wevelgem, launching a winning attack from a breakaway inside the final four kilometres. The runner-up in Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke finished clear of Borut Bozic (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) with the sprinters left competing for the minor places in a race shortened by the snowy conditions.

Sagan, recently criticised for his race winning celebrations by Fabian Cancellara -  who pulled out at the feedzone  -  had plenty of time to celebrate at the line, treating the crowd to a series of wheelies.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), who initiated the winning move on the second ascent of the Baneberg, had to settle for fourth.

At the team presentation in Deinze, Haussler had been vocal about his thoughts on the race, stating that the cold conditions could be a step too far and that the riders' safety could be compromised if the weather worsened. However with 6,000 VIPs at the race, the race organisers were always going to play every last card in an attempt to see the race start. The first 50 kilometres were cut, the first of the ascent of the Casselberg annulled and the race was on.

Haussler’s attack on the road as opposed to on the start line was one of the defining moments of the race as he sped towards a three-man move of Assan Bazayev (Astana), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ).

Before he could make contact he was joined by Sagan, former winner Bernhard Eisel (Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Borut Bozic (Astana), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Yaroslov Popovich (Radioshack), Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol). Before long the break had an advantage of 1’30.

It sparked Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team into life but having lost Tom Boonen to a crash and with Vandenbergh up the road, reinforcements were sorely needed. Sky and BMC who had Eisel and Van Avermaet in the lead group were hesitant to chase but Blanco and Lotto obliged to cooperate inside the final 30 kilometres for Mark Renshaw and Andre Greipel respectively.

However the gap still held with Flecha and Bodnar providing steely back up for Bozic and Sagan.
Into the final 10km, the lead finally began to topple and with 7km to go the gap was a mere 48 seconds. The sprinters looked to have the race in their hands, especially with a stern wind aiding their chase.

Up ahead, Flecha surged to the front to try and inject some impetus but all that appeared to come with him were tired legs, frozen fingers and demoralised hearts.

Inside the 5 kilometre marker it was Haussler’s turn to give it one last assault but with the lead at 38 seconds the race was still heading towards a bunch sprint.

Vandenbergh launched an attack with 4 kilometres to go, in his first effort since joining the escape but he was quickly closed down.

Cue Sagan, who followed Flecha onto Vandenbergh’s back wheel before dipping his shoulders and accelerating away for his win.

A cold day and a shortened race

The cold weather in Belgium caused a lot of stir about whether or not the 75th edition of Gent-Wevelgem should go through or not. The evening before the race the organizers decided to get the race underway in Gistel instead of Deinze, covering the first 50 of the 238 kilometres long race by bus.

The cold northeast wind quickly resulted in the formation of several echelons. In front many favourites were present in a first group of 25 riders, including defending winner Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, Andr√© Greipel and Peter Sagan. As Fabian Cancellara wasn’t present in this group his team did most of the work in the second echelon when battling the strong winds in the flatlands of De Moeren.

After entering France for about fifty kilometres of racing the first groups were heading for a junction. When taking on the Mont des Cats (or Casselberg) a second time the group with Cancellara finally reached the front of the race. On the following wide open roads the group split again though most of the favourites remained in front this time. The pace in front dropped slightly and that was the sign for Juan Antonio Flecha to attack.

The Spaniard was joined by Matthieu Ladagnous and Assan Bazayev. The trio quickly collected a maximal gap of two minutes on the peloton. That was until that peloton hit the Baneberg where Philippe Gilbert tested his legs. Shortly after that the race passed through the feed zone at 70km from the finish, and Tour of Flanders favourite Fabian Cancellara and many other riders abandoned the race there. A few moments later Tom Boonen hit the deck in the peloton when he hit a curb at high speed in the drop towards the town of Kemmel.

The Belgian champion needed a lot of time to get back on his bike. On the Kemmelberg Edvald Boasson Hagen increased the pace, swiftly marked by Peter Sagan and about thirty others. In the background Boonen quit the race after riding up the cobbled climb. Meanwhile the first chase group was trailing the three leaders by only forty seconds.

When turning back on wider roads to tackle the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg for the last time, Heinrich Haussler set up a new move. The German Australian was joined by Sagan, former winner Bernhard Eisel (Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and others. When powering up the Baneberg the peloton was back on their heels but after the climb the break was gone, together with Andrey Amador (Movistar), Borut Bozic (Astana), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Jaroslov Popovich (Radioshack) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol).

The ten quickly caught up with the three earlier leaders, creating a leader’s group of thirteen riders. On the Kemmelberg Bazayev couldn’t keep up and dropped back into the peloton which trailed by 1:20. Mark Cavendish instructed Zdenek Stybar to keep the pace high. But Omega Pharma-QuickStep lacked the numbers to reduce the gap and received little support from other teams.

That was until Debusschere punctured out of the lead group and Lotto-Belisol moved to the front of the peloton. When riding through Ieper and the Menin Gate – an impressive passage with 30km to go - the eleven remaining leaders had just under 1:30 on the peloton. The efforts in the peloton were not enough to bring down the gap to the lead group because ten kilometres later it was still the same.

Source and for Full Results: Cycling News

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