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Gent-Wevelgem: Mads Pedersen outpaces Mathieu van der Poel in two-up sprint

Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) held off Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in the closing metres of a two-man sprint to win Gent-Wevelgem for a second time.

The battle of world champions ensued when they broke away from their challengers on the final pass of the Kemmelberg and went head-to-head at the finish after a 35km ride to the line.

Pedersen rolled under the flamme rouge in the lead, with the Dutchman behind him ready to pounce. The Dane took a few looks back over his left shoulder and took the initiative for full flight to open sprint. Van der Poel tried to come around the left side but ran out of gas and sat up before the line to concede victory.

Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the best of the chasing bunch, who had closed the duo’s lead to just 16 seconds over the final kilometres as the leaders played some games among themselves. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) edged out Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) for fourth while Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) took sixth.

Van der Poel, who won recent E3 Saxo Classic, had broken the race apart on the opening climbs with 96km to go, but Lidl-Trek had numbers and looked for revenge for Friday, when the Dutchman stole the show and Jasper Stuyven had to settle for a Lidl-Trek second place.

How it unfolded

Sunny skies and the sounds of brass bands in Ypres welcomed the 25 teams and 175 riders set to take on the 86th edition of Gent-Wevelgem, with over 250km and six hours of racing between them and the finish.

Despite the pleasant mood and unexpectedly nice weather at the departure from the Menin Gate, the wind was evident blowing the flags of Flanders and Belgium on the streets of the city. An ominous sign with sections along De Moeren on the route and many welcoming the chance of echelons in the opening 150km

With just over 30km covered, a breakaway of six moved out to 25 seconds from the peloton: Michael Mørkøv (Astana Qazaqstan), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Kelland O’Brien (Jayco AlUla), Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech), William Blume Levy (Uno-X Mobility), Cyrus Monk (Q36.5).

Breakaway specialists Dries De Bondt (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) took up the chase and carved their way through crosswinds to the front over the next 20km. The lead group grew to eight with 210km go to, with a 2:25 advantage.

After their poor luck at E3 Saxo Classic, Visma-Lease a Bike were again on the wrong end of a crash, losing Jan Tratnik, who had only started as a replacement for Per Strand Hagenes, with 160km to go.

After Tratnik’s day was done, the race exploded into life in the group of favourites, with Van der Poel, Pedersen and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) among those most interested in using De Moeren to make the difference.

Quickly echelons formed 148km from the finish with the wind blowing across the road, so strong that riders such as Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) even found themselves in the ditch alongside the road, with teammate Connor Swift and Jake Stewart (Israel-Premier Tech).

Most of the favourites had made it, with Lidl-Trek, Alpecin-Deceuninck and Visma-Lease a Bike best represented with at least three riders each, but Lotto Dstny, Bahrain-Victorious and Jayco AlUla were chasing furiously behind to get Arnaud de Lie, Matej Mohorič and Michael Matthews into the move.

The climbs

The gap was coming down as the lead group of favourites joined up with the day’s early break and exited de Moeren, with the climbs incoming at the Scherpenberg before the Baneberg.

Small attacks went off the front from Johan Jacobs (Movistar) and Max Walscheid (Jayco-AlULa), but they came to nothing as the peloton finally rejoined the Van der Poel group with 94km remaining. With 91km to go, the two attackers were reeled back after the mass bunch regrouped on the ascent of the Monteberg.

Lidl-Trek continued to show their great form from E3 and moved to the front to increase the pace after the 900-metre climb, with the first pass of the crucial Kemmelberg climb incoming from the Belvedere side.

Van der Poel then jumped to the front and blasted across the cobbles of the 500m berg, shredding the lead group. Across the top, only Lidl-Trek teammates Pedersen and Jonathan Milan remained on the Dutchman’s back wheel.

Jasper Stuyven gave chase and connected with his Lidl-Trek teammates across the next kilometre. Also attaching back in the lead were Tim Van Dijke (Visma-Lease a Bike), Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) and Rasmus Tiller (Uno-X Mobility). The peloton trailed 35 seconds back.

The road flattened out and Milan was the next to take flight off the front with 82km to go, trying to force Van der Poel into chasing with Both Stuyven and Pedersen able to take time off sharing the workload with the pre-race favourite.

With Milan just under 30 seconds ahead, Van der Poel took it upon himself to lessen Lidl-Trek’s advantage, exploding up the second of three Plugstreet sections – Christmas Truce – and dropping Stuyven, the runner-up from E3, with a rear-wheel puncture later revealed on the broadcast.

Pedersen stuck with the numbers game when Milan was eventually reeled in by Van der Poel, attacking the Dutchman again with 63km to go and now only in a group with his teammate, the world champion and top talent Pithie.

Milan managed to hold on as the duo responded to the Dane, but he started to struggle 10km later when his teammate tried again to break Van der Poel’s resolve on the Monteberg. Pedersen tried again on the second ascent of the Kemmelberg but everpresent in his rearview mirror was the rainbow jersey and Pithie close behind.

The peloton had made good ground up to this point and only crested the Kemmelberg 20 seconds down on the now-leading trio with Milan back in the bunch. Trentin went solo away from the bunch to try and bridge to the leaders but eventually fell back into the peloton with a 23-second deficit still to make up.

Ineos worked on the front to reduce the advantage, swapping turns with Bora-Hansgrohe, Jayco-AlUla and TotalEnergies, but the lead stayed around 25 seconds as the next series of climbs came thick and fast.

Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) led a move out of the faltering peloton on the Baneberg with Hugo Page (Intermarché-Wanty), cresting still 25 seconds away from the leaders and only 5km from the foot of the final climb and final ascent of the Kemmelberg. But this time from the Ossuaire approach.

Pedersen led the trio on the final climb with Van der Poel in his wheel, but behind the Kiwi had started to suffer. Pithie was left behind as the Dane duly accepted a bidon atop the final berg and Van der Poel did similarly, with 34km now separating him and the Dutchman from the line in Wevelgem.

Pithie fell away as he chased solo with Turner and Page now joined by Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) 1:05 down on the duo in front. The gaps were coming down between those in pursuit, with the final set to be fought by Pedersen and Van der Poel.

The final push

A battle between world champions ensued after the final launch across the Kemmelberg, Pedersen and Van der Poel leaving the climbs, and Pithie, behind for hammer time on the flatter final 30km.

With 23km to go the duo passed under the Menin Gate, where it all began hours before, the chase group 1:05 behind.

There was no time to slow to show respects to soldiers at the Hooge Crater Cemetery south of Ypres on the route, as the lead duo held 1:10 over a group of four who worked together in the chase – Page, Pithie, Turner and Turgis.

However, the quartet seemed more attentive to staying ahead of a closing peloton, now 15 seconds away from making the catch. – and were only 11 seconds in arrears. It was all together with 13km to go.

The leading duo with rainbow bands on their sleeves rushed across the 9km marker and their lead dipped below the one-minute mark. They traded efforts at the front, headed to the first two-up sprint between the two giants.

It was Pedersen who led from the front and who would enjoy victory at the finish. Van der Poel came from the wheel but couldn’t manage to pull alongside the Dane, let alone make the pass for another big win, and he’d be forced to settle for second place.

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SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: jackie.tyson@futurenet.com
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