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Classics power play: What it took to win the fastest ever Gent-Wevelgem

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1 Apr 2019
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Words: Joe Robinson

The 2019 Gent-Wevelgem was a true battle of attrition. Just under five and a half hours of racing at 45kmh, it was the fastest ever edition of the race.

Early crosswinds and plenty of work from Wout van Aert and his Jumbo-Visma squad saw a group including Peter Sagan, Matteo Trentin and Mathieu van der Poel go clear creating an intriguing game of cat and mouse between the 18 or so up front and Deceuninck-QuickStep, the biggest losers from the day's early moves.

Eventually, hard work and persistence from Patrick Lefevere's team brought back all but five riders, including Sagan and Trentin, who eluded capture until the final 20km.

The last 15km saw attack after attack with a handy group of four remaining out front until the flamme rouge.

Jumbo-Visma, the best represented in the large group, led out the sprint for Danny Van Poppel while a betting man would have backed either Elia Viviani or Fernando Gaviria to finish off the job. 

However, it was Gaviria's teammate Alexander Kristoff who took the much-needed spring victory for UAE-Team Emirates, proving he is still one of the strongest riders in the world over 250km of racing and as Strava proves, strength was certainly necessary for any potential victor.

Echelons in the 53-11

Gaviria was lucky enough to find himself in the first echelon when Jumbo blew the race apart in the crosswinds. For the first two hours, he averaged 51.2kmh.

Hitting the area of crosswinds between the towns of Gistel and Nieuwport, on a winding pan-flat road, that average surged to 58kmh for 16km with Gaviria having to push 336W for 16 minutes, with two peaks over 1,000w, to help force the split.

With an average cadence of 97rpm, Gaviria would have spent the majority of this period pushing a 53-12 gear. 

Putting the effort of the chase in perspective, Bahrain Merida's Matej Mohoric was part of the chase behind that conceded time. This was despite averaging 55.5kmh and 306W for the same period.

Climbing the Kemmelberg

The first ascent of the cobbled Kemmeberg, the centrepiece of Gent-Wevelgem with multiple approaches, was the undoing of the day's break causing the tired to fall away and the impatient behind to start putting the pressure on the pedals.

In the lead group was Cees Bol of Team Sunweb. The recent Nokere Koerse winner is a heavyweight sprinter at 1.93m tall. To keep tabs on the likes of Sagan and Trentin, he pushed 505W for four minutes with a period of 600W for the steepest section of the climb.

Behind, Zdenek Stybar was putting the hammer down to bridge the gap. Oliver Naesen was forced into following with a two-minute effort at 455W just to keep pace.

By the second ascent of the Kemmelberg, the race was on. Van Aert and Stybar made a move to go clear catching eventual winner Kristoff, who had made an ill-fated attempt to bridge solo to the lead riders.

When this attack came, Naesen was again forced into a monumental effort to keep tabs with a one-minute effort of 605W, around 8.5W/kg, including three crucial seconds at 922W. 

Fast finale

Despite Sagan, Trentin and co plugging away with the day's star-studded break, the hard work of Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-QuickStep brought a sizeable group together to the finish.

Short-lived attacks from Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) and Sebastian Langeveld (Education First) kept the pace high with Jumbo's Van Poppel among those chasing.

A 12km section nearing the final had Van Poppel average 47.2kmh and 285W with multiple peaks in excess of 1,000w.

Eventually, the final kilometre saw a reduced peloton come together to contest a fatigued sprint into a stiff headwind. The fastest men - Gaviria, Sagan and Viviani - were too spent to even open up the legs in the final 250m.

Instead, it was burly Norwegian Kristoff who got the better of a visibly-knackered John Degenkolb in a brutish kick to the line.

I say brutish because Kristoff hit 1,432W and 61.9kmh in the final sprint to win. That's 18.5w/kg. A mammoth effort considering the double Monument winner had already averaged 345W for the entire five hours and 26 minutes of racing including a 10km period off the front on his own.

Although maybe more impressive than all of these figures was the ride of young Quinn Simmons.

The 17-year-old became the first American to win the junior Gent-Wevelgem and in the process was the sixth fastest rider to climb the Kemmelberg in three minutes 51 seconds. Only one second slower than Van Aert and a full five seconds quicker than Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet.