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On a dramatic, windy day, Paolini made it into the race-winning six-rider move after a long solo effort and finally escaped to take a huge solo win; Terpstra and Thomas completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

GENT-WEVELGEM

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS

GERAINT THOMAS

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

KATUSHA ALPECIN

TEAM PROFILE
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NEWS

LUCA PAOLINI

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

NIKI TERPSTRA

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS
29.03.2015 @ 18:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

 

Luca Paolini (Katusha) took the biggest classics victory of his long career when he emerged as the strongest in an epic edition of Gent-Wevelgem. After stormy conditions had blown the race to pieces, the wily Italian bridged across to what turned out to be the race-winning move and gauged his efforts perfectly throughout the day before making a solo attack with 5km to go. Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) beat Geraint Thomas (Sky) in a two-rider sprint to take second.

 

Luca Paolini went into Gent-Wevelgem as a domestique for Alexander Kristoff as the race usually comes down to a sprint from a reduced peloton. However, extreme wind completely changed the nature of the race and the wily Italian excelled in the conditions that turned the race into one of attrition.

 

In the end, the Katusha rider used his experience perfectly to come away with the biggest win of his long career, adding to the wins he took in the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and stage victory in the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Throughout the epic battle, he did everything right despite finding himself in a group with the best classics riders in the world.

 

Already in the early part of the race, the peloton split for the first time in the extremely windy conditions and from there it turned into an elimination race. Every time Paolini made it into the first group but he seemed to have missed out when the race-winning move was formed just after the first passage of the key climb of the Kemmelberg.

 

At that point, Jurgen Roeleandts (Lotto Soudal) was the lone leader of the race but behind the Belgian a strong group with Geraint Thomas (Sky), Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) and Daniel Oss (BMC) was formed. Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) quickly bridged the gap and he was later followed by Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal).

 

The group built an advantage of 45 seconds over the peloton and with most of the major teams represented, it seemed that the race was over for Katusha. However, he delivered an incredible performance when he bridged the gap on his own. A little later, Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) made a similar move and now the race was over for the riders in the peloton.

 

A very strong Roelandts managed to keep a 2-minute gap for a very long time but after the final passage of the Kemmelberg, he started to lose ground. On that ascent, Paolini had briefly been distanced but he managed to get back in contention, unlike Oss who was left behind.

 

With less than 20km to go, Roelandts was brought back and now the game of cat and mouse started. Terpstra seemed to have made the decisive attack when he came back from a puncture to catch his rivals by surprise. Paolini used his experience to catch the Dutchman’s wheel and those two riders seemed to be riding away.

 

A very strong effort by Thomas saw the Welshman get back in contention and this caused the pace to go down. Vandenbergh, Debusschere and Vanmarcke also got back and the game of cat and mouse could start again.

 

With 5km to go, Paolini almost got an accidental gap and from there he never looked back. Despite Terpstra and Thomas taking off in pursuit, they would never see the Italian again who held on to take a solo win. Terstra beat Thomas in the sprint for second to complete the podium in an epic race.

 

Gent-Wevelgem was the final big one-day race before the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. Next week, however, some of the classics riders will prepare themselves by doing the Three Days of De Panne which offers plenty of cobbles, hellingen and sprints.

 

A classic course

The 2015 Gent-Wevelgem was held on a very classic 239.1km courset that brought the riders from Deinze to Wevelgem. After a flat first part, the riders reached the hilly zone at the midpoint where they tackled 9 small hellingen, including the famous Kemmelberg-Monteberg duo that would be done twice. The latter was the final climb of the day and was located 34km from the finish. From there, it was a fast, flat run back to the finish Wevelgem.

 

Already from the start, it was clear that the scene was set for a big battle as the riders left Deinze in rainy and stormy conditions. Despite the strong headwind, the attacking started immediately and at first a 10-rider group with good representation from Trek took off.

 

The break takes off

They were brought back and instead a new group took off. While the peloton slowed down, Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Tim Kerkhof (Roompot), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r), Mirko Tedeschi (Southeast), Jesse Sergent (Trek), Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin) and Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo) started to build an advantage.

 

After they had got a gap of 40 seconds, the peloton split for the first time when three groups were formed but it again came back together. As they again turned into a headwind, the gap rose quickly and it reached more than 8 minutes after an hour of very slow racing.

 

Wiggins abandons

Moments later, the action started when the group again split and riders were now all over the place. Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) left the race.

 

Etixx-QuickStep were the driving forces in the first echelon when a big crash split the field in three parts. At this point, the third group had already lost more than a minute.

 

The peloton splits

The fast pace had reduced the gap to just 4.05 while Kerkhof fought his way back to the front after a puncture. BMC were now setting the pace in the first group when another crash brought down the likes of Mark Cavendish, Martin Velits (Etixx-QuickStep), Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Matthias Brändle (IAM).

 

Vanmarcke, Thomas, André Greipel, Roelandts, Nikolas Maes, Jelle Wallays, Klaas Lodewyck, Heinrich Haussler and Debusschere were some of the riders who had made it into the lead group but as the second group made it back, a 100-rider group was formed. LottoNL-Jumbo took over the pace-setting but moments later, the race exploded again.

 

Cavendish punctures

Riders like John Degenkolb, Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Demare found themselves in a second group as the peloton was again split in several groups and in a matter of a few kilometres, they caught the break. Meanwhile, Cavendish was extremely unfortunate to puncture out of the lead group.

 

On the Casselberg, Degenkolb managed to bridge the gap to the leaders while Bouhanni was dropped from the Greipel group. Terpstra was the next rider to puncture out of the lead group, dropping back to the Greipel group where the German champion did a lot of work.

 

Tjallingii takes off

More riders, including Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), were shelled out the back and dropped back to the next group that also included the likes of Vandenbergh, Jack Bauer, Greg Van Avermaet and Bjorn Leukemans. As they pace went down in the front group, however, the second group made it back and later Bouhanni also got back in contention.

 

Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) took off and managed to build a gap of a minute while Oss never managed to bridge the gap. Paolini came to the fore to lead the peloton before Breschel took over.

 

Keukeleire takes off

With 86km to go, Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) attacked and he spent some time as the lone chase. Manuel Quinziato, Vandenbergh, Thomas and Gregory Rast (Trek) also tried to get clear and next Edwards Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) took off.

 

Theuns was joined by Roelandts, Oss and Vandenbergh and they bridged the gap to Keukeleire. While Bouhanni got dropped, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alexei Tsatevich (Katusha) also made it across and they were flowed by Vanmarcke and Terpstra. However, the peloton was just behind and it came back together as they hit the Kemmelberg.

 

Roelandts gets clear

Tjallingii was still 25 seconds ahead while Vandenbergh moved to the front to set a hard pace. Theuns took over but on the descent, it was Roelandts and Vandenbergh who got a small gap.

 

Roelandts distanced Vandenbergh and bridged the gap to Tjallingii whom he dropped on the Monteberg. When the Dutchman was caught, the peloton again split in the crosswinds when Oss and Vandenbergh got a gap.

 

The chase group is formed

Vanmarcke and Matteo Trentin bridged the gap just as Zdenek Stybar punctured at the worst possible moment.  A few more riders got across to make it a 10-rider group while Stybar made it back to the second group.

 

When they slowed down, Vandenbergh got clear and he was joined by Oss and Thomas. Behind, the two gaps again merged while Vanmarcke sensed the danger and bridged the gap.

 

Paolini bridges the gap

Debusschere followed suit a little later and with 65km to go, a 5-rider group had been formed. As the peloton slowed down, Paolini decided to try to make it across and he made an impressive effort to make it in just 3km.

 

Roelandts was now 50 seconds ahead of the chasers while the peloton was at 2.50. Nobody really wanted to chase in the peloton and so Theuns tried to attack. When he was brought back, Trentin tried but he had no luck either.

 

Thomas crashes

Thomas was simply blown off the road by a strong gust of wind but he did an amazing job to get back. At this point, Etixx-QuickStep had started to chase and when they had brought the gap to the chasers down to 40 seconds. Terpstra took off. He quickly bridged the gap while Roelandts had now extended his gap to 1.40.

 

The peloton now sat up as nobody really wanted to chase and so the attacking started, with Mathew Hayman making a move. Meanwhile, Roelandts had extended his advantage to 2.20.

 

The group splits on the Kemmelberg

Roelandts hit the Baneberg with an advantage of 2 minutes while the peloton was now 5.30 behind. He still had 2 minutes when he started the Kemmelberg where Terpstra accelerated. Thomas made it back to the Dutchman and just after the top Vanmarcke and Vandenbergh also got back in contention.

 

On the descent, Debusschere rejoined the chasers and finally Paolini also made it. The faster pace meant that the gap was now only 1.30. In the peloton, Theuns and Sylvain Chavanel tried to attack and it was the Frenchman who made a solo effort that ultimately turned out to be fruitless.

 

Terpstra punctures

After the Monteberg, the gap was only 45 seconds and despite Paolini and Debusschere just following wheels, the balance was tipping. Oss was still trying to rejoin the chasers but he never made it.

 

With 19km to go, Vandenbergh got a small gap and it was now clear that everybody was on their limit as it was hard for Thomas to bring him back. The Belgian tried again but failed to get clear and instead he had to go to the back to wait for Terpstra who punctured.

 

Terpstra takes off

With 18km to go, it was over for Roelandts and so the pace went down. This allowed Terpstra to get back and he made an immediate attack which was covered by Paolini.

 

The pair quickly got a big gap and Thomas had to do a monstrous solo effort to chase them down. As he didn’t get any help, he made an attack which sent Roelandts out the back door.

 

Thomas rejoins the leaders

The Welshman went again and this time only Vandenbergh could follow him. However, the Belgian couldn’t keep his wheel and with 12km to go, Thomas rejoined the leaders.

 

Terpstra now stopped working and so Vandenbergh also got back. With 7km to go, Vanmarcke and Debusschere also made it and now the game of cat and mouse could really start. That was when Paolini made his wily move and while everybody looked at Thomas to close it down he got clear.

 

The group splits to pieces

As he had a 15-second gap, Vandenbergh attacked but it was the counterattack by Terpstra that worked. He was joined by Thomas while Debusschere never made it.

 

Terpstra and Thomas did their best but they were unable to catch Paolini who took the win. Terpstra beat Thomas to take second while the rest of the group crossed the line one by one.

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