Gaviria notches top 10 in Gent-Wevelgem
Sixth place at the finish meant that the 21-year-old scored Colombia's best ever result in this cobbled classic.
Ten climbs, cobbles, crosswinds, headwind and a very fast pace, these were the ingredients of the 78th Gent-Wevelgem, a race which began with a five-man break taking shape right from the first kilometers: Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Josef Cerny (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Simon Pellaud (IAM Cycling), Jonas Rickaert (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana). The group had a maximum lead of ten minutes, before Etixx – Quick-Step came to the forefront and chew into the advantage of the escapees. The crazy pace at the front also led to some echelons being formed with 160 kilometers to go, as the pace was upped in an attempt to force an early selection.
The gap began to drop in the final 66 kilometers, when Paris-Tours winner Matteo Trentin decided to make others work by attacking from the pack. He was soon joined by the likes of Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Daniel Oss (BMC), and this move had the desired action, as Dimension Data and LottoNL-Jumbo were forced to chase and reel them in. Despite catching these riders, things didn't cool down, because Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) and Stijn Vandenbergh jumped from the pack inside the final 50 kilometers, spicing up things.
As the 31-year-old Belgian was brought back, the Russian kept going and surprised everyone by opening a gap of around one minute. At that point it became obvious that the second ascent of Kemmelberg – on the side which ramped up to 23% – will become crucial in the outcome of the race, and so it was. Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) accelerated, while the peloton disintegrated on the rough cobbles of the climb. Before the riders who got distanced got the chance to organize the chase, the leaders (including Kuznetsov) built a 30-second advantage.
Once again, Etixx – Quick-Step was the team to pull behind the quartet and rode really hard, dropping many riders in the process, but even though they took back half a minute thanks to the impressive work of Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh and Tom Boonen, it was still very difficult to neutralize that move, which made it to the finish, where Sagan won after outpacing Vanmarcke and Kuznetsov. From the mini-peloton that arrived 11 seconds later, Fernando Gaviria sprinted to sixth place, an important placing for the 21-year-old neo pro, who recorded Colombia's best ever result in this cobbled Classic, despite hitting the deck at one point during the race.
"This morning, in the first two hours, I couldn't find my rhythm and I was a little bit concerned. Then I crashed, but as the race progressed I began thinking that I could do something, and eventually came sixth. To be honest, I really enjoyed this race and I am glad that I could count on a great team and look up to guys like Tom and Niki from whom I can learn a lot about riding in the wind. Belgium was a great experience and I am now returning to Colombia satisfied with the way I rode", said Fernando Gaviria, who scored three wins in 2016, proving with each occasion his unlimited potential, which helped him come with the best not only in Gent-Wevelgem, but also in Milan-Sanremo and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Having the team again among the protagonists, showing how united it is even in tough weather conditions, left Etixx – Quick-Step CEO Patrick Lefevere content and confident that the riders can go for a big result in the following Monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix: "The guys did a good race, there's nothing to say about this. We were always at the front, fighting, and on two occasions we tried to anticipate the others, with Trentin and Vandenbergh, but unfortunately the bunch didn't allow them to get clear. On the Kemmelberg, Zdenek came 10 meters short of making the junction with the guys in the lead. I want to congratulate Fernando for this 6th place in his first Gent-Wevelgem. We still have two weeks to try and go for a big result and we will give everything to get it."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele