In a race ridden in cold and miserable conditions Luca Paolini won from a two man breakaway with Omega Pharma's Stijn Vandenbergh. That gets Katusha off to a good start with the win that eluded them all all last classics season.
The end result was never in doubt as the the two slipped away from the larger breakaway group that formed before Molenberg. The chase behind hovered at around 30-40 seconds and the two had plenty of time to play games as they entered Gent. Vandenbergh, who looked the stronger in the headwind on the cobbled passages south of Gent, made one big futile attempt to shake the faster Paolini but it was short lived and Paolini opened up a long sprint to leave the heavier Omega-rider behind as he crossed the line. This was 36 year old Paolini's first win in a major classic since winning the Brabantse Pijl way back in 2004 despite often being a factor in the big races. He has long been a trusted lieutenant, to Paolo Bettini most notably, helping others to big wins but with other bigs departing he is now the top name at Katusha and made the best of it today.
The real action of the race started after the Eikenberg as Sylvain Chavanel got off on en early solo attack and this soon triggered a group of counter-attackers/chaser from behind. Greg van Avermaet and Jurgen Roelandts looked strong in a group that also included Sky's Geraint Thomas and Paolini and Vandenbergh. On the last climb, the Molenberg, van Avermaet forced a furious pace that failed to shake his companions but it did spell the end of Chavanel's solo effort. By this time it was clear that the big group with the favorites were out of the race, being some 1 min 50 seconds behind and not really motivated to ride as most big teams were represented up front.
By the time the front group reached the Paddestraat Vandenbergh pressed on and only Paolini was able to follow. The two formed a front-duo that steadily opened up a gap on the passive group behind. As they finally got a decently organized chase on it was all but too late and the presence of Vandenbergh's teammate Chavanel sitting on at the back helped kill the motivation. Instead they focused on riding for second as they entered Gent and it was local boy Sven Vandousselaere who overcame his more famous opponents in the sprint for third. A great result for the Topsport Vlaanderen team in one of the races that matter most to them.
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|5.||BMC||Greg Van Avermaet|