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Degenkolb and Trek-Segafredo back at the sharp end

Facing doubts about his team's classics chops, John Degenkolb delivers a solid second-place finish at Gent-Wevelgem, building confidence.

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — One step ahead. That is how John Degenkolb wants to see his Trek-Segafredo team ride in the classics.

On Sunday, it did just that. It helped deliver a blow to Deceuninck-Quick Step and propel Degenkolb to second place in Gent-Wevelgem behind winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates). The positive step is a good sign for the Tour of Flanders.

“We did a great race as a team, and that’s the way we have to ride,” Degenkolb said. “Basically, we were always one step ahead of the other teams, especially Quick-Step.

“Everyone knows that Quick-Step is the team to beat, but since the first split, from that moment, they were running behind the fence. It was a good move.”

Deceuninck-Quick Step dominated the early one-day races with wins in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, and the E3 BinckBank Classic.

Trek-Segafredo, however, put the Belgian super team on its back foot in the early hours of Gent-Wevelgem. Jumbo-Visma began to rip the race apart. It had four in the move and Trek-Segafredo joined the fight with Degenkolb, Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven, and Edward Theuns. Deceuninck could only rely on its domestique Tim Declercq.

The day-long effort and Degenkolb’s sprint after Pedersen’s and Stuyven’s fight helped them forget about the last weeks when insiders began to question the team’s classics abilities.

“We were struggling a lot in the last weeks, it was a hard period. How we raced was fantastic after so many races with no results. We are strong riders, but everyone was pointing at us and wondering what we are doing — in the end, it was not an easy situation to handle,” Degenkolb added.

“Sometimes you just need a race like this, one click, and we’re back. Today we showed how we can ride as a team; we turned the page after quite a few disappointments this year. It was great to see, and a deserved and needed mental boost for the next two weeks.”

The 30-year-old German survived the climbs in Flanders near the French border. When the race broke, he saw his teammate Theuns ride clear with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and others. He then suffered to maintain his ground behind, in case the race regrouped for a sprint.

“It was also a mental fight to keep there. I felt better after the last time up the Kemmelberg, and it was also mentally easier to know there were no climbs anymore,” he continued.

“I don’t want to say the ‘F-word,’ but it was super, super hard today. It was unbelievable.”

Degenkolb won Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015. Twice he finished in seventh in the Tour of Flanders.

With the Wevelgem results, the team heads to the Tour of Flanders with new confidence. They and the others now realize that Deceuninck-Quick Step’s fortress has its weak points.