Gent-Wevelgem: ‘I didn’t have my E3 legs,’ says Wout van Aert
Jumbo-Visma forced to settle for second in Gent-Wevelgem after vigilance from rivals.
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Despite throwing everything at Gent-Wevelgem and racing on the front foot Sunday, Jumbo-Visma had to settle for second place in the men’s race with Christophe Laporte unable to respond to the winning sprint from Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert).
Jumbo-Visma came into Sunday’s race as the team to be beat after Wout van Aert and Laporte went 1-2 in Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic. The pair rode the entire peloton off their wheels in that race and finished a minute clear of the opposition.
Barely 48 hours later, it looked as though the Dutch team would come close to that performance during a thrilling edition of Gent-Wevelgem. In the end, the race didn’t go their way. Laporte was second and van Aert finished 12th at 8 seconds back in the front chase group.
“We raced how we wanted,” van Aert told the media at the finish.
“Maybe I didn’t have the legs from Friday but we still raced aggressively and we tried to go for the win all together. We tried to set up Christophe for the win in the final with a small group. It was our game plan and it was the perfect situation. It’s just a shame that we missed out on the win.”
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Things were looking good going into the final hour of racing.
Van Aert accelerated on the last two ascents of the Kemmelberg and at one point Jumbo-Visma had three riders in a front group of eight, with Laporte and van Aert joined by Tiesj Benoot.
The numerical dominance was impressive, but only Laporte made the final split when he and Dries van Gestel (TotalEnergies), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), and Grimay skipped clear with 24km to go.
Laporte hit the front of the group inside the final 500m and that decision proved costly.
Grimay opened up his sprint from the back of the group and hung on for the win with Laporte unable to match the Eritrean’s initial speed. At the line Laporte was clearly disappointed, while van Aert finished 12th and Benoot 34th.
Jumbo-Visma couldn’t split the group on Kemmelberg
Jumbo-Visma tried to break the race open on the second and third ascents of the Kemmelberg, but were matched on each occasion.
Van Aert was able to create a small gap on the final ascent but Mads Pedersen and Kasper Asgreen helped bring back the Belgian before the end of the descent. With so many sprinters still in contention, and teams like Groupama FDJ gunning for a sprint, it was almost impossible to break the front group apart on the climbs.
“The Kemmelberg is a really hard climb but it’s not long so the gaps are always small,” van Aert said. “We organized well immediately but there are a lot of teams with interest for the sprint in this race. They organized even faster so there was no chance to stay away. I’m tired.”
Van Aert praised Girmay’s performance. The Eritrean has risen through the ranks in the last few seasons and at 21 scored the biggest win of his career with Sunday’s win.
“It’s really big. Obviously in the last few weeks there has been some talking about him but winning a classic like this is another step forward. It seems like he’s taking steps everyday, so it’s impressive and congrats to him.”