John Degenkolb sprints to second place as Trek-Segafredo animates the Belgian Classic from start to finish.
After weeks of frustrations and no results, Trek-Segafredo pulled together its best team effort and delivered and much-needed second place in Gent-Wevelgem.
Right from the drop of the flag the race was on, and Trek-Segafredo never missed a beat, placing four riders in the first significant split that saw 18 riders form a threatening lead group, and continued the incredible team effort until the finish line where John Degenkolb sprinted to second behind Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).
“I was very nervous already in the neutral zone,” admitted Degenkolb. “The race was super hard straight from the gun. I don’t ever remember the wind coming from this direction in Gent-Wevelgem so it was quite clear that at one moment it would split. It was just amazing that we were there with four guys.”
I don’t want to say the F-word, but it was super, super hard today. It was unbelievable.
The chase was on from behind, but it would take the peloton 180 kilometers to bring back the last remnants of the leading group after Edward Theuns’ attack saw four men move clear 67 kilometers from the end. They became five when Sky’s Luke Rowe bridged across adding more firepower, and it wasn’t until 18 kilometers to go that the bunch finally was one unit.
“I was fighting with myself to stay in the bunch after the first time up the Kemmelberg. But after I could recover because we had Eddie (Theuns) in front with the group with Sagan so we only had to control and the other teams had to ride,” continued Degenkolb. “On the Kemmelberg I was already exploding. Then I dropped back to the next group and then I could find my legs again and hang on. But 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.”
Despite a stiff headwind for the run-in, Trek-Segafredo continued its pressure with Mads Pedersen, and Jasper Stuyven trading blows in the last 10 kilometers to try and get clear. Stuyven’s attack with five kilometers to go almost succeeded. Taking three riders with him, the quartet survived into the final 1000 meters, but a headwind, lack of cohesion, and tired legs ended their bid, and a reduced bunch sprint was on order.
Degenkolb: “We did a great race as a team, and that’s the way we have to ride. 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.
“In the end, we could rely on our power to make a result, and it didn’t matter who it was. I was focusing on the sprint and Mads and Jasper were attacking to make a split and covering all the attacks. Just before the finish, Jasper was in a small group so he also could have made a good result.”
After such a grueling race, it was a hardman’s finish into a headwind. The power sprinters came to the fore, with Kristoff earning a huge victory, and Degenkolb finding back enough legs to finish second ahead of Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale).
“It was a really hard sprint with the wind, everything had to be perfect. I was focusing on Viviani, but they all got boxed in on the left somehow and just before I had to touch the brakes I could go to the right and keep my speed. Alex (Kristoff) did an amazing sprint, to be honest. He was super strong. I could come on his wheel… but today he was by far the best. After such a hard race it’s what you have left in the tank. I did a lot earlier on, but that’s also racing. I enjoyed today -it was a great day in Flanders fields.”
Trek-Segafredo has struggled over the opening weeks of the Classics and faced misfortune in the first monument, Milan-Sanremo. The result in Gent-Wevelgem was a much-needed boost of morale and confidence ahead of its two biggest races, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“We were struggling a lot in the last weeks, it was a hard period,” agreed Degenkolb. “How we raced today 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.
“We worked very hard the whole winter, and we all know what we have done and sacrificed for this, but then you miss the results for whatever reasons… 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.”