Elia Viviani continued his rise and rise over the last year by winning the sprint to the line in Wevelgem, having gone clear thirty kilometres from the end of the Belgian classic accompanied by three team mates and a medium-sized group of hardmen and sprinters. His Quickstep team were clearly laser-focused on towing him to the three-hundred-metre mark, and their hard work paid off, as Viviani sprinted from the front to take a deserved win.
That’s the script the men in the Quickstep team car would have wanted me to end up writing today, but this is cycling, and things don’t always go to plan. Yes, Quickstep were laser-focused, and maybe Viviani did have the quickest sprint in the front group, but back luck rode alongside him as he entered Wevelgem. On his other side was Matteo Trentin, who served to keep him thoroughly boxed-in as Sagan sprinted down the left-hand side.
Sprinted to victory, as it turned out, turning him into the star of a day for which he may not have been as fancied as much as one might expect, having been off the pace in E3 Harelbeke. Perhaps that was what enabled him to ride in a fashion that was far more incognito than we have come to expect from the world champion, who scarcely had his nose in the wind until the final moment. Often Sagan has been forced to do such an amount of work that winning a sprint at the end of a race as long as this is beyond him, but without the perception that he was the strongest man in the race, along with the rare presence of a team mate (Marcus Burghardt) allowed him to save his matches for when their light would count the most.
As Sagan commented, the conditions for this edition of the race were not quite so severe as they have been recently — a mild day with some wind, but nothing approaching gale-force. This left plenty of team mates still in the race even after the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, with the break of Frison (Lotto), Gonçalves (Katusha), Ganna (UAE Emirates), Duquennoy (Veranclassic) and the Roompot pair of Van Goethem and Van Schip still out in front, with a fairly formidable advantage of ninety seconds or so. However, with a fairly innocuous split in the crosswinds, the peloton was cut in half, with Philippe Gilbert providing the impetus to catch the break in a matter of kilometres, as Magnus Cort, Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb and a few other two-and-three star favourites were left behind, never to see the front again, although in the case of Kristoff and Cort, not for lack of trying. If not for the committed work of Gilbert, however, they would have had more of a chance, as Quickstep focused on Viviani’s chances.
The group careened towards Wevelgem with no room to attack as the pace was kept infernal. It only really turned to anarchy within sight of the flamme rouge, with breakaway survivor Van Goethem having a crack, followed by Wout van Aert, marked by Quickstep’s freshest domestique Yves Lampaert. Sep Vanmarcke put some air between himself and the chase, but he was still within Lampaert’s reach as the Belgian maintained the integrity of the group. Sagan on the left, Démare on the right, both opened the sprint at the same time, but Sagan proved the fastest as Viviani could only weave out of his trap to second place, collapsing to tears on the West Flanders pavement.
- Peter Sagan (BOH), Slovakia 5:07:32
- Elia Viviani (QSF), Italy
- Arnaud Démare (FDJ), France
- Christophe Laporte (COF), France
- Jens Debusschere (LTS), Belgium
- Oliver Naesen (ALM), Belgium
- Matteo Trentin (MTS), Italy
- Zdenek Stybar (QSF), Czechia
- Jasper Stuyven (TFS), Belgium
- Wout van Aert (VWC), Belgium