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Gallery: Peter Sagan wins Gent-Wevelgem, coming to the front at the perfect moment

Jack Elton-Walters
25 Mar 2018

Peter Sagan looked to have launched too early but held off all challengers to win the 2018 Gent-Wevelgem. Photos: Pressesports/Offside

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the 2018 Gent-Wevelgem with a powerful sprint from a reduced lead group of around 30 riders. It looked as though the World Champion had been forced into launching his sprint earlier than may have been ideal but no one could get on terms and he crossed the line first.

Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) crossed the line second after losing position in the group and getting boxed in. His team - in particular Philippe Gilbert - had done the majority of the work in the front group in the hope of setting up a win, but he couldn't finish the job.

As the camera focused on Viviani as he sat down after the finish, his dejection at not winning was clear to see.

Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) came over in third as he couldn't get up to and past Sagan after the latter launched for the line. Only third despite being the first of the team leaders in the front group to start missing turns and sitting up to save energy.

How the 2018 Gent-Wevelgem unfolded

The 2018 Men's Gent-Wevelgem, which started in Deinze, took the riders on a 251.1km route through Flanders Fields, including a short excursion into France.

An early breakaway of six riders pushed on up the road and had an advantage of over nine minutes over the main peloton. It soon came back down and settled between four and five for much of the time they were away.

Those in the break were Jimmy Duquennoy (WB Aqua Protect), Filippo Ganna (UAE Team Emirates), Frederik Frison (Lotto-Soudal), Brian van Goethem (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Jan-Willem van Schip (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij) and Jose Goncales (Katusha-Alpecin).

As always with these races, the winner was always going to come from the larger chasing group, but breakaways are great for sponsors and good for viewers.

Groupama-FDJ were visible on the front of the peloton for many kilometres, but visible too - and so pushing the wind - was their leader Demare.

That squad had used their resources very early as Demare found himself isolated as the eploton split apart later in the race.

As the route took in the climbs and gravel roads, the gap between the break and the peloton tumbled. Quick-Step Floors, led initially by Gilbert, began to apply pressure on the front and the peloton started to split.

Crossing the gravel of the Plugstraats, Greg Van Avermaet put his BMC Racing teammates to work on the front and the pressure they applied saw huge gaps forming in the strung out peloton.

The front group swelled as more riders got back in contact, but at a cost to their energy reserves and chances later in the race. Ian Stannard (Team Sky) had been present but was seen going dropping out of the group, likely with a puncture from the unmade road.

By this point the leading six riders had lost much of their advantage but they continued to ride as a unit, avoiding the kind of in-fighting that would speed up their demise.

Next on the road was a group of four that was trying to get clear of the main peloton as they climbed the Baneberg. In that group, which was around 30 seconds behind the leaders and 50 seconds ahead of the peloton at the foot of the climb, were Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal), Julien Vermotte (Dimension Data), Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect) and Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin).

The four caught the six and we had 10 riders away from the bunch and the gap between them was one minute.

Just before he reached the Kemmelberg, which the lead group was already struggling up, Gilbert went away from the peloton and began to make his way up the cobbled ascent.

Sep Vanmarcke (EF Drapac) was on the front of the peloton and was closing in on Gilbert. The latter did not look to be on his best form as he fought with his bike over the cobblestones.

The Kemmelberg served to trim the lead group down to six and with only 33km left to race once the road flattened out again off the descent, the leaders were carrying an advantage of 1:32 and were motivated to push on.

Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan), Sagan, Van Averamet and others took their turn on the second group as it became clear that they could be watching the race win ride away from them.

That group, of about 20 riders, was making a dent in the advantage of the fast moving front group while other groups behind formed into echelons as the wind cut across the road from the riders' left.

The Sagan group, within sight of the leaders, began to mess about and not ride through as an efficient unit. The gap went down to eight seconds but wavered back up to 13 as the chasing riders looked at one another.

Despite the discord in the second group, the third group found itself dropping further and further back, with 30 seconds between them and contact.

Demare, doing his fair share, pushed on and the first two groups became one, while the next group back was now 34 seconds in arrears.

The coming together at the front allowed the riders to sit up a bit and have a look around, see who was present and try and gauge each other's form. With 24km to go the group got strung out as the riders tried to avoid letting the chasers come back to them.

Despite their efforts at the front, the gap - which had been looking like it was going uop - dropped down to 20 seconds. Frison went solo but was closed down by Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors). Even with the group staying together, Stybar pushed on but then gestured for others to work with him.

The chasers looked far more dedicated to catching the leaders than the leaders seemed to want to stay sway. Gilbert tried to put in some impetus and Sagan seemed willing to contribute but the varying gap between the groups did not look like a safe distance for the leaders.

The wind was now a factor and riders found themselves shelled out the back of whichever group they were in, with no prospect of getting back in as the wind cut through the gaps.

Gilbert's whipping focused the group's attention and everyone began to ride through. Vanmarcke put his nose in the wind and kept himself near the front, expending energy but staying on the safe side of any potential splits.

The first peloton had pushed its lead out to 44 seconds with 18km left to race. Demare was a notable dead weight in the front group as his only contribution was to immediately flick his elbow and move over having done approximately zero pedal strokes on the nose of the group. Much to Sagan's frustration.

The FDJ man did ride through later on but he'd already marked himself out as betting on a sprint with his antics earlier on.

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) followed an Astana one-two as they looked to shell the hangers-on in group two but had 50 seconds between them and those up the road. Too little too late.

Quick-step's choice appeared to be Viviani particularly as Gilbert hammered it on the front every time he was there.

With 5.3km left, the first attack came from van Schip, who'd been part of the original breakaway. It was spirited but short lived as Gilbert once again ramped up the speed of the leaders, and then sat on the front pushing the pace.

Under the banner to mark 4km to go and the Kristoff trio was 48 seconds down and unlikely to make contact. The apparent folly of the chase didn't take any power out of it, and perhaps the former winner of the Tour of Flanders was thinking ahead to that race next weekend.

Still on the front was Gilbert and as they came within 2,200 metres of the finish line, van Goethem, he also of the original break, launched. Gilbert jumped onto his wheel and others chased.

GVA had a go but couldn't get away, then van Aert tried without luck too. With 1km left it was attack-chase-attack-chase but the sprint ramped up.

Result: Gent-Wevelgem 2018 (251.1km)

1. Peter Sagan (SVK) Bora-Hansgrohe
2. Elia Viviani (ITA) Quick-Step Floors
3. Arnaud Demare (FRA) Groupama-FDJ
4. Christophe Laporte (FRA) Cofidis
5. Jens Debusschere (BEL) Lotto-Soudal
6. Oliver Naesen (BEL) AG2R La Mondiale
7. Matteo Trentin (ITA) Mitchelton-Scott
8. Zdenek Stybar (CZE) Quick-Step Floors
9. Jasper Stuyven (BEL) Trek-Segafredo
10. Wout Van Aert (BEL) Verandas Willems Crelan