Events

Burghardt wins crash-marred Ghent-Wevelgem

German rider Marcus Burghardt outfoxed one of the savviest riders in the peloton to win a crash-marred Ghent-Wevelgem ahead of three-time world champion Oscar Freire. The T-Mobile prospect scored the first win of his career in impressive manner after powering away from Freire and three other escapees with 1.3km to go in the 220km march across western Flanders.

By Andrew Hood

Burghardt shows off his prize

Burghardt shows off his prize

Photo: Agence France Presse

German rider Marcus Burghardt outfoxed one of the savviest riders in the peloton to win a crash-marred Ghent-Wevelgem ahead of three-time world champion Oscar Freire. The T-Mobile prospect scored the first win of his career in impressive manner after powering away from Freire and three other escapees with 1.3km to go in the 220km march across western Flanders.

“It’s my biggest ever win, and my first pro win. And for that to happen at a ProTour race makes it all the sweeter,” Burghardt said. “It is the best possible outcome for me.” Teammate Roger Hammond came through second for his best result since finishing third at Paris-Roubaix in 2004 as T-Mobile went 1-2 and took great pleasure in relegating the feared Freire to third.

“When Burghardt escaped, I hesitated for two seconds because I had just taken a pull. I was counting on some help from [Francisco José] Ventoso, but he didn’t have any power,” Freire said. “That hesitation of two seconds proved fatal.” Burghardt’s finish line smiles were in sharp contrast the grimaces of pain etched upon the faces of at least two dozen riders who suffered high-speed crashes on the treacherous Kemmelberg descent late in the race.

The peloton fractured after two passages over the Kemmelberg in the final 60km of the mostly flat route across western Flanders. It was the descent that proved spoiled chances for many. American Tyler Farrar (Cofidis) saw his classics debut come to an abruptend after he suffered a broken left kneecap [see “Farrarbreaks knee in crash on cobbles“] while French rider Jimmy Casper(Unibet.com) was momentarily in intensive care after landing fast-firston the cobblestoned descent.

The harrowing descent and ensuing crashes had some suggesting the Kemmelberg is just too dangerous to be featured in the race. [see “Kemmelberg too dangerous?“].

With 25km to go, Freire, Ventoso and Burghardt bridged out to join Hammond, Christophe Mengin (FDJeux), who were part of a three-man breakway which extracted themselves 40km into the race. It looked like the peloton, led by CSC, QuickStep and Gerolsteiner, would reel in the breakaway just 16 seconds ahead, but the three new escapees fresh legs and extra horsepower to the breakaway’s chances. Forming a quick alliance the group collaborated to expand their lead to 45 seconds with 10km to go.

“We were all committed to making the breakaway stick to the finish,” Hammond said. “With about 2km to go, [sport director] Tristan Hoffman said Marcus should try something. He came by me like a plane and all I had to do was get on Freire’s wheel.” Burghardt powered to a breakthrough victory and just the second for T-Mobile this season.

Breaks and breakaways
Great weather once again welcomed the peloton for the 69th edition of Ghent-Wevelgem. Absolutely huge crowds turned out to cheer on 193 starters from 24 teams. Pre-race favorite Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) forfeited after getting hit with an overnight stomach bug and chose to reserve his strength for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

The refrain all week has been, “The weather isn’t typically like this!” Forecasters are calling for summer-like temperatures for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. The unseasonably spring weather without even the hint of wind has skewed the tactics of many riders.

Fabian Cancellara (CSC) said he learned a lesson from Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. The Paris-Roubaix champion bashed his pedals in a daring attack, but was reeled at the foot of the Kamelmuur with 16km to go. “I learned that at these races you have to wait when it’s dry,” he told VeloNews before the start of Ghent-Wevelgem. “I was the strongest at Flanders, but because the conditions were favorable for the big group, it worked against me. I couldn’t get the right mix in a breakaway, that one other strongman to help me. Roubaix is different because it’s always hard.”

Just as Paris-Roubaix doesn’t start in Paris, Ghent-Wevelgem doesn’t start in Ghent. Instead, the departure was taken in Deinze, about 20km southwest of the namesake of the race. The race is often called the “sprinter’s classic,” but Team CSC sport director Scott Sunderland said the mostly flat course should never be underestimated.

“There’s a little thing called the Kemmelberg they have to get over two times,” said Sunderland, who lives in the region and knows the roads well. “It all depends on who gets over the Kemmelberg and how many riders the big sprinters have to help them. Sometimes a guy like a Paolini or an O’Grady can do well here if it’s a smaller group.”

Several riders tried to pull away until Christophe Mengin (FDJeux), Florent Brard (Caisse d’Epargne) and Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) snuck away at about 40km into the race as the route pushed toward Ostende coast. By the time the route wound around to De Panne, the gap was north of eight minutes and would expand to more than 12 minutes. Wednesday’s festivities weren’t immune to crashes as the nervous peloton zigzagged from wider highways to narrower farm roads.

Former Paris-Roubaix champion Servais Knaven (T-Mobile) crashed hard with about 63km to go when he was squeezed against the fences and grabbed his right hip in pain. At 59km to go, Danish national champion Allan Johansen went somersaulting into a ditch after being squeezed off the right side of the road. Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) touched pavement at 58km.

Kemmelberg massacre
The leading trio hit the day’s first obstacle at the Monteberg/Kemmelberg with 58km to go still nursing a lead of 4:15. Liquigas, QuickStep-Innergetic, CSC and Milram were taking turns at the front to keep them close. The main bunch started to fracture under the cobblestoned climb packed with thousands of rowdy fans. Ventoso led the way up, with Burghardt, Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) and Stuart O’Grady (CSC) in good position up the steep climb.

Though the cobbles were in good condition, the steep, narrow descent was very sketchy and water bottles popped out of their cages due to the bouncing. Casper clipped a tire of a Liquigas rider trying to avoid the bottles and did a nasty face-plant as he cart-wheeled over the cobblestones. He lay prone on his back with his nose and face bleeding profusely.

Several other riders then crashed trying to avoid the carnage, including VeloNews diarist Farrar who was clutching his bloodied left knee. Others going down were Luke Roberts (CSC), Wim De Vocht (Predictor-Lotto) and Wilfried Cretskens (QuickStep-Innergetic). The survivors spit back onto the flats looking around to see who was still there. Freire jumped into a short-lived move that also featured Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas). David Kopp (Gerolsteiner) – back from breaking his nose in a spill at Milan-San Remo took a dig with 44km to go, with Dmitri Muravyev (Astana) chasing his wheel. The Hammond group hit the second passage over the Kemmelberg with their lead under two minutes with Ventoso strong again on the climb, leading the way with Burghardt and McEwen in good position.

It was a repeat of the first passage in the middle of the pack as nerves, bouncing water bottles and brake grabs caused at least another half dozen to hit the pave going 70kph downhill. Matthew Haymen (Rabobank), Fabio Sacchi (Milram) and James Vanlandschoot (Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner) were among the major victims. Troubles continued for Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) as he decided to pull the plug after missing the selection over the Kemmelberg.

Into Wevelgem
Ventoso – a winner of three stages at the Vuelta a Castilla y León – pulled clear with Burghardt marking his wheel. The T-Mobile rider refused to pull through because the team had Hammond still up the road with about one minute.

Gilbert, Cooke, Freire, O’Grady, Hushovd and Boonen led a counter-attack out of the main pack with about 30km to go. More riders bridged out as contenders sniffed that this move might stick as the peloton fractured into three main groups.

Freire then drove a move with Ventoso and Burghardt in tow, though Burghardt was still riding the wheel with Hammond still dangling off the front at 15 seconds with 29km remaining. Freire was giving the big German a piece of his mind because he wasn’t collaborating.

The two trips down the back side of the Kemmelberg took their toll.

The two trips down the back side of the Kemmelberg took their toll.

Photo: Graham Watson

Ventoso, Freire and Burghardt reeled in the Hammond trio with 25km to go and held a slender 16-second gap on the chasing peloton. Brard dropped back with 16km to go and the gap widened to 28 seconds.

Predictor-Lotto, CSC and QuickStep were driving the chase, but it seemed to lose intensity with 15km to go and the gap grew to 31 seconds.

“It’s not normal that you have five teams pulling and a five-man breakaway can stay away,” said Sunderland after the race. “They were going very hard, so that says a lot about the determination of the riders in the break.”

Some suggested the breakaway riders were profiting from tailing TV cameras on motorbikes, a common complaint in many races. Riders can often pace off the TV motorbikes and take some protection from winds.

Hammond poo-pooed the idea and suggested the opposite.

“That’s rubbish. We were more hindered by the motorbikes than anything. They would have to slow down in the corners and so did we, so we lost momentum because of the bikes,” Hammond said. “How many Belgians did you see in that front group? You think they were towing us? Come on.”

Coming into the final, it was the two Spanish sprinters with Ventoso and Freire vs. the two T-Mobile’s with Hammond and Burghardt. Mengin was the wildcard.

T-Mobile didn’t try anything until Burghardt made his move with about 1.3km to go. In a rare blunder for the savvy Freire, he got stuck in the middle and the once-strong Ventoso wilted in the decisive moment and couldn’t offer anything on the chase.

With the third place, however, Freire moved into the ProTour leader’s jersey for his efforts.

Ghent-Wevelgem
1. Marcus Burghardt (G), T-Mobile, 4:52:14
2. Roger Hammond (GB), T-Mobile, at 0:04
3. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, at 0:05
4. Francisco Ventoso (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir, at 0:06
5. Christophe Mengin (F), Française des Jeux), same time
6. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Predictor-Lotto, at 0:15
7. Max van Heeswijk (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
8. Baden Cooke (Aus), Unibet.com, s.t.
9. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
10. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Ag2r, s.t.
11. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Crédit Agricole, s.t.
12. Olaf Pollack (G), T-Mobile, s.t.
13. David Kopp (G), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
14. Koen De Kort (Ned), Astana, s.t.
15. Aaron Kemps (Aus), Astana, s.t.
16. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sp), Rabobank, s.t.
17. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Ag2r, s.t.
18. Imanol Erviti (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
19. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas, s.t.
20. Franck Renier (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.

Photo Gallery

Results

1. Marcus Burghardt (G), T-Mobile, 4:52:14
2. Roger Hammond (GB), T-Mobile, at 0:04
3. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, at 0:05
4. Francisco Ventoso (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir, at 0:06
5. Christophe Mengin (F), Française des Jeux), same time
6. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Predictor-Lotto, at 0:15
7. Max van Heeswijk (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
8. Baden Cooke (Aus), Unibet.com, s.t.
9. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
10. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Ag2r, s.t.
11. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Crédit Agricole, s.t.
12. Olaf Pollack (G), T-Mobile, s.t.
13. David Kopp (G), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
14. Koen De Kort (Ned), Astana, s.t.
15. Aaron Kemps (Aus), Astana, s.t.
16. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sp), Rabobank, s.t.
17. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Ag2r, s.t.
18. Imanol Erviti (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
19. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas, s.t.
20. Franck Renier (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.