Three-time world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) became a three-time winner of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won his third Gent-Wevelgem title on Sunday and sent a shot across the bow with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix coming the next two Sundays. Sagan proved the quickest out of a select group with Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) finishing second and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) rounding out the podium.

Vivani was visibly upset after the race. While Sagan sprinted on the left side of the road, Viviani went on the right side and got boxed in by Demare. Vivani eventually found room to sprint around Demare, but there wasn’t enough road left for him to get past Sagan. Quick-Step Floors had three other riders in the group helping Viviani in the final kilometers, including Philippe Gilbert.

In the final kilometer, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education Frist-Drapac) tried an attack, but it mostly served as the final leadout for the sprinters. The sprint began on the right side of the road before Sagan jumped to the left. Sagan joins five other men that have won Gent-Wevelgem three times. The list includes the likes of Eddy Merckx and Mario Cipollini.

“It was a complicated sprint, its always a bit of a lottery,” Sagan said after the race. “I started early and in the end it was good. I had the legs to hold the lead.”

“This was easy,” Sagan said of this year’s edition. “Because of the lack of wind, nothing crazy like three years ago. it was a very fast race. There wasn’t much wind so there was a big group of us, otherwise, the group would have been smaller.”

Top 10

The 2018 Gent-Wevelgem saw the peloton battle over 251 kilometers along a route that included 11 of the tough “helligen” that dot the region. The last cobbled climb was the Kemmelberg, but there was still over 30 kilometers to the finish from the summit. As was the case last year, race organizers included three sectors of the rough dirt roads that are also common to the region. The three dirt sectors were back-to-back-to-back and were tackled between 60 and 50 kilometers to go.

In the opening hour of the race, Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), José Gonçalves (Katusha-Alpecin), Filippo Ganna (UAE Team Emirates), Jimmy Duquennoy (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic), Brian van Goethem (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), and Jan-Willem Van Schip (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij) broke away from the peloton to form the day’s breakaway. They would stretch their lead to over nine minutes at one point during the race.

When the breakaway riders finally hit the first climb with 114 kilometers to go their lead had dropped to six and a half minutes. However, the true tests of the day were still a ways away.

The riders hit the Kemmelberg and its max gradient of 28% for the first time with about 75 kilometers remaining in the race and Quick-Step Floors were all over the front of the peloton. The Belgian team was showing its strength and depth on the climb. Also near the front of the peloton was former Quick-Step rider Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin). Surprisingly, Sagan sat midway down the peloton on the climb.

BMC Racing came to fore when the peloton hit the dirt sectors with just 60 kilometers to race to put Greg Van Avermaet in prime position. They didn’t just set a fast pace, but put the power down. The peloton soon began to splinter due to the pace BMC Racing was setting. Team Sky sat right behind BMC Racing over the dirt sectors.

Attacks flew like crazy from all of the big teams over the next 20 kilometers. The dust finally settled when the “helligen” climbs were done for the day. A select group of 30 riders was up the road and breathing down the necks of the breakaway riders with only 30 kilometers remaining in the race.

Heavy hitters in the group included Van Avemaet, Sagan, Sacha Modolo (EF Education First-Drapac), Vanmarcke, Demare, and fast finisher Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo). Other fast finishers in the group were Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis). Quick-Step Floors had a plethora of riders in the group with Gilbert, Viviani, Zdenek Stybar, and Yves Lampaert all making the split. Also making the group was current world cyclocross champion Wout van Aert (Vérandas Willems-Crelan).

Quick-Step Floors drove the pace in the group. They easily swept up the breakaway and the intense pace saw many riders spit out the back. Most notably, van Poppel was unable to hold the wheel and dropped off the group.

Furthermore, Quick-Step Floors didn’t want the second group on the road to catch back up. In that group sat European champion Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).

The third group would never make contact with the leading group, but Kristoff would attack alongside the Astana duo of Magnus Cort Nielsen and Michael Valgren. The trio finished a minute down on Sagan.

Cohesion in the leading group was nearly nonexistent in the final five kilometers, as most of the riders looked to Quick-Step Floors to set the pace. Gilbert did huge turns at the front of the group to try to deter any attacks. Van Avermaet had a go with an attack, but it was quickly shut down.

Vanmarcke’s attack in the finale proved to be the perfect leadout for the sprinters. The sprint was chaotic with most of the riders on their own and now leadout trains battling for position in the final meters like you see at the Tour de France.

The group was hugging the right side of the road in the final few hundred meters, but then Sagan launched to the left side of the road. The world champion was trying to get the jump on everyone else and his initial kick proved to be the difference, as he just held of Viviani to take the victory.

French national road champion Demare was able to hold off his countryman Laporte to finish on the podium.

The cobbled classics continue on Wednesday with the WorldTour-level Dwars Door Vlaanderen.

Full results