Sagan solos out of breakaway group to take Gent-Wevelgem
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sagan solos out of breakaway group to take Gent-Wevelgem

by Kyle Moore at 12:27 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results
Bozic second, Van Avermaet third as 12-man break dominates final 60km

Peter SaganPeter Sagan got his first big Classic victory in Gent Wevelgem on Sunday, albeit in an unconventional way. The Slovak sensation involved himself in a 12-man group that got away with 60 kilometres to race and held the peloton at bay in a tense finale to the race. Rather than wait for a bunch sprint, and with the peloton closing down quickly, Sagan attacked with three kilometres to the line in Wevelgem.

Several of his breakaway mates tried to close him down, including Bernard Eisel (Sky Procycling) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), but Sagan was gone. He wheelied over the line with 28 seconds to spare, and Borut Bozic (Astana) took another podium place for second. Van Avermaet beat out a frustrated Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) for third, after Haussler had sprung the initial move with just under 60 kilometres to race.

Frigid temperatures and wind dominated the early action, which saw a 25-man group get away with most of the other favourites – especially the sprinting specialists – in the escape. Things eventually came together and the frantic first couple of hours of racing became a thing of the past when Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ), and Assan Bazayev (Astana) got away in a three-man move, and the race took on a more traditional feel.

Tradition was interrupted when Haussler moved away with 57km to race, pulling several chasers with him, forming a break that would eventually decide the race. Sagan was smartly hooked onto the Haussler group, which eventually bridged to the Flecha trio, staying away all the way to the line. In the waning kilometres, Sagan made his move and soloed away. Bozic outsprinted Van Avermaet and Haussler in Wevelgem, with Flecha rounding out the top five.

"This may not be on the level of Sanremo, Flanders, or Roubaix, but I'm really happy with my first victory in a Classic," Sagan said afterward. "Vandenbergh went toward the end, and I answered with a counter move. I immediately noticed that I had a gap. I didn't wait for the sprint, because in a group like that, all the focus would have been on me. You sometimes have to look for another solution in your effort to win."

Winter remains, and remains unwelcome in Belgium:

With 183 kilometres on the menu instead of 237, after the race start was moved up to Gistel due to weather issues, riders were bundled up against the conditions as the race got underway. The peloton was two men smaller from the start, as Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana) and David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) did not start due to illness. Almost immediately, the race split into more than five different groups, as freezing crosswinds cut into the bunch. A group of 25 that included Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), Matti Breschel (Saxo-Tinkoff), Sagan, and other fast men represented the front group, and they were off the front for quite some time – nearly 80 kilometres.

Radioshack-Nissan were the primary chasers as small groups consolidated into a peloton behind, pulling Fabian Cancellara back into the mix. The groups covered 51 kilometres in the first hour of racing, seemingly ignoring the cold and windy conditions, or perhaps riding to render the cold temperatures ineffective. Things became more organized when another group attached to the leaders, forming a 50-man leading group with 100km to race. FDJ pulled another set of riders back into the lead group, with Sky Procycling’s Edvald Boasson Hagen hitching a free ride back behind them.

Just as the rest of the groups were coming back together, Andriy Grivko (Astana) pushed over the Casselberg with Van Avermaet, then turning into a crosswind again and blowing up the peloton once more. Phinney helped Van Avermaet push on, and five echelons were visible on the road with 90km to go. Omega Pharma-Quick Step hit the front and engineered another slow-down, and barring a few more accelerations, the peloton consolidated again.

Sensing his opportunity, the veteran Flecha attacked and pulled Bazayev and Ladagnous with him, and the peloton was more than happy to take a break. BMC, Sky, and Cannondale riders chatted at the front and Cancellara dropped to his team car while the Flecha trio quickly pulled out a minute worth of advantage. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) caused some ripples in the peloton heading into the Catsberg, but Cannondale policed over the climb with Sagan at third wheel. Over the Kokereelberg, the peloton continued with an easy pace, while Flecha, Bazayev, and Ladagnous took their lead to two minutes.

The Baneberg and the Kemmelberg play their part:

As Flecha led over the first ascent of the Baneberg, Gilbert flexed his muscle again behind, attacking the climb and stringing out the main bunch. The world champ briefly forced a 30-man group clear, but his group hit the feed zone and slowed down to take on fuel, bringing the peloton back together. But his acceleration brought the Flecha group to within 90 seconds with 70km to go.

Tom Boonen made his first statement when he joined a small attack sprung by BMC and Europcar riders, and was therefore quickly brought back. Moments later, Boonen got caught on the curb, squeezed out by the back of the peloton, and crashed hard onto the sidewalk, banging his right knee. The Belgian champion was slowly back up and onto his bike, but put behind for good as the bunch steamed toward the Kemmelberg.

On the climb, Flecha led over a struggling Ladagnous and Bazayev, but the Spaniard zipped up over the top and waited on his two recovering breakaway mates. Their lead was 50 seconds until the main bunch crested the Kemmelberg, when it was cut to 30 seconds. Boonen moved gingerly up the climb before soon calling it a day, and the returning champion headed off to nurse his wounds.

Just as the main bunch was reforming after the rigors of the Kemmelberg, Haussler accelerated away. The IAM rider was eventually joined by Sagan and Cannondale team-mate Maciej Bodnar, Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Eisel, and Bozic. It wasn’t long before the Haussler group had caught the Flecha breakaway, just over the second ascent of the Baneberg. Flecha sat up to wait, and Bazayev shook feeling back into his toes. Van Avermaet and Yaroslav Popovych (Radioshack-Leopard) had attached to the Haussler group, and these ten men joined the original breakaway trio to form a group of 13, which went immediately to work.

They built a lead of 48 seconds quickly, a gap that expanded to 1’35” as they hit the Kemmelberg for a second and final time. Van Avermaet and Flecha led the group over, although everyone managed to stay attached except for an exhausted Bazayev, who eventually dropped back to the peloton. The intentions of the breakaway would soon be clear as the main bunch tackled the Kemmelberg, with both Cavendish and Greipel evident and climbing well.

With 45km to go, Bodnar came back to the break after being briefly dropped, making Cannondale the only team with two representatives in the 12-man leading group. The escape had 90 seconds on the peloton with 40km to race, as Omega Pharma-Quick Step performed a roll call at the front of the peloton to see who could pull Cavendish back into contention. Frustratingly for Bodnar, a wheel change forced him to chase back again, when he could finally exchange words and strategy with Sagan, and Amador kept the group going in the meanwhile.

Unfortunately for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, they could only muster up Zdenek Stybar in support of Cavendish, and precious kilometres ticked off before others came forward to help. Debusschere flatted out of the lead group and Lotto-Belisol provided some help in the peloton, but the escape group was holding off the chase, using regular turns from everyone in the group except Cavendish’s team-mate Vandenbergh.

For the next 20 kilometres, the 11-man escape held the peloton at 1’30”. Bodnar shed his outer layers in preparation for more work. A headwind into Geluwe finally began to tire out the escape, and with 10km to go, their lead finally began to drop. It was under a minute with 9km to race. Flecha accelerated, but Haussler and Sagan fell in behind. With six kilometres left, Bodnar buried himself for Sagan and held the gap at 40 seconds for several crucial kilometres. Haussler took over and Bodnar was dropped, job done with 4km to go.

Vandenbergh played his card at the 4km mark, but Flecha and Sagan were on him, with Bozic eventually pulling the rest of the escapees back to them. With a 30-second gap on the flying peloton, Sagan made his move, which was met with hesitancy by the rest of his group. Van Avermaet finally took off with Eisel along to help, but Sagan appeared to be gone. A kilometre later, it was confirmed, as Sagan achieved 15 seconds and his exhausted chasers began thinking about second.

Sagan had plenty of time to celebrate and cross the line in style, and the in-form Bozic won the sprint for second. Greipel led the peloton home, nearly 40 seconds later.

Gent Wevelgem Brief Results:

1 Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in 4hr29’10”
2 Borut Bozic (Astana) at 28 secs
3 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
4 Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling)
5 Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM)
6 Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ)
7 Bernhard Eisel (Sky Procycling)
8 Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
9 Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Leopard)
10 Andrey Amador (Movistar)


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