Gent-Wevelgem started for the first time in the heart of Flanders Fields, under the Menin Gate in Ypres. After a tough race with wind, rain and a lot of attacks in the peloton it was Mads Pedersen who was faster than Sénéchal and Trentin at the finish line.
Exceptional times call for exceptional measures and that's why the start in Ypres this morning was closed to the public. This resulted in a unique team presentation in the shadow of the Menin Gate, one of the war memorials in Flanders Fields. 25 teams brought their strongest and fastest men to the start of a race coloured by rain and wind.
After a quiet moment under the Menin Gate with bagpipe music and a minute's silence in honour of the corona victims, the race started at 10 a.m. sharp. Pretty soon the classic early flight formed: Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale), Alexander Konychev (Mitchelton-Scott), Leonardo Basso (INEOS Grenadiers), Julien Morice (B&B Hotels - Vital Concept), rider from the region Kenny Molly (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles), Gilles De Wilde (Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and none other than Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-McLaren). After 45.7 km and a heavy downpour, the first hour of racing was over.
The leading group had a maximum lead of about 7'30", but in the peloton they already accelerated firmly in the windy region of the Moeren. We didn’t see echelons, but the lead of the front group decreased very quickly. One rider tried to get to the front, but the Swiss Johan Jacobs couldn't close the gap.
At the first passage on the Kemmelberg it was the team of Michal Kwiatkowski (INEOS Grenadiers) who set the pace. Also after the Kemmelberg there was no rest. In the run-up to the Plugstreets, the peloton broke into pieces. On the first unpaved zones, Hill 63 and Christmas Truce, we saw the duo Trentin - Van der Poel pull firmly to thin out the chasing group even further. In the meantime, the leading group saw its lead shrink meter by meter. When they entered the last unpaved zone, the Catacombs, their adventure was over.
In the run-up to the hill zone a new and strong leading group of 9 formed: Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Soudal), Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale), Matteo Trentin (Team CCC), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Team), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Luke Rowe (INEOS-Grenadiers), Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) and former world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
In the chase the pace went up again at the second passage on the Kemmelberg. An interesting chasing group formed with Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Bettiol (EF Pro Team), Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal), Sénéchal, Lampaert and Asgreen (Deceunick - Quick-Step).
On the third and last time Kemmelberg (Ossuaire side) Van Aert and Van der Poel closed the gap with the leading group side by side and made sure that the chasing group could join in front. A group of 15 riders, without Vermeersch and Gougeard, entered the final. Küng tried it on his own for a while, but saw his effort end at 26 km from the finish line. In the chase it was UAE Team Emirates that did everything they could to bring Kristoff to the front, but in the end the gap was too big.
At about 15 km from the finish the leading group broke in two. Van Aert, Van der Poel, Lampaert, Sénéchal, Küng, Bettiol, Degenkolb, Pedersen and Trentin proved to be the strongest and worked together perfectly in the front. This meant, among other things, that Teuns could no longer get close enough in the chase. The last 5 km were coloured by one attack after another. The decision was made when the Italians Bettiol and Trentin joined forces. Sénéchal and Pedersen were able to join the duo. In the sprint of four it was the Dane Pedersen who gave his companions the check. He sprinted faster than Sénéchal and Trentin. In 2016 Pedersen was already the best in the Kattekoers and now the elite race is also on his honorary list. One year after Kristoff there is another Scandinavian able to celebrate.