Peter Sagan takes a second career Gent-Wevelgem title, besting fellow escapees Sep Vanmarcke and Viacheslav Kuznetsov in a cagey sprint

Peter Sagan picked up his first victory in the rainbow jersey Sunday with a win at Gent-Wevelgem. The Tinkoff star triumphed in a cagey four-man sprint at the end of a long, windy day in Belgium to take his second career title in the race.

Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL – Jumbo) took second, with Viacheslav Kuznetsov in third, delivering a podium performance for Katusha despite the eleventh-hour withdrawal of his teammate Alexander Kristoff, a pre-race favorite, due to illness.

Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) was the last of the four across the line, while FDJ’s Arnaud Démare won the sprint for fifth in the peloton behind.

Excitement over the race finale was tempered by news from a hospital in nearby Lille, France. 25-year-old Belgian Antoine Demoitié (Wanty – Groupe Gobert) was struck by moto after a fall as the race passed through Sainte-Marie-Cappel in northern France. According to the AFP, Demoitié passed away after being transported to intensive care.

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Sunday’s event took place under mostly dry but windy conditions in the Flemish countryside, which led to splits even from the first hour of racing.

Groups broke apart and reformed throughout the afternoon after the peloton set out on the 243-kilometer journey from Denize, near Ghent, to Wevelgem. After a five-man move of Matteo Trentin (Etixx – Quick-Step), Daniel Oss (BMC Racing), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek – Segafredo), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto – Soudal), and Pavel Brutt (Katusha) was reeled in, Kuznetsov jumped clear on his own as the peloton approached the day’s final few climbs.

The 26-year-old Russian opened up a gap of nearly a minute, but soon found himself riding with company. Cancellara attacked on the Kemmelberg and Sagan and Vanmarcke followed. They bridged to Kuznetsov to form a lead quartet some 35 kilometers from the finish.

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), and Luke Rowe (Sky) tried to give chase, forming a second group on the road, but the four up the road only increased the advantage as the parcours flattened out.

The peloton reabsorbed the chasing trio, but the bunch was unable to put much of a dent into the advantage of the escapees, which collaborated well as the kilometers ticked down.

When it became clear that the win would come out of the group up front, none of the four wanted to be the one to lead out the sprint. Kuznetsov finally took it up inside the final few hundred meters and opened up a small gap, but Sagan jumped with him and then blew past to take the win.

Vanmarcke just barely pipped Kuznetsov at the line for second.

“The sprint was very slow because we had a lot of time in front of the group,” Sagan said. “And the guys know Fabian is fast after a lot of kilometers like today. And they know I’m fast if I feel good

“Today I felt very good.”

For Sagan, the win could help relieve a bit of pressure. The 26-year-old Slovakian has already racked up six second-place finishes this season, including a runner-up result in Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, but until crossing the finish line in Wevelgem he had not won a race since taking the world championship title in Richmond last year.

“I am very happy I won finally with this jersey,” he said.

Gent-Wevelgem results