Besides his repeated successes at the Tour de France, Peter Sagan is famous in the one-day races thanks to his three successive titles of UCI World Champion and for his triumphs at the 2016 Tour des Flandres and the 2018 Paris-Roubaix. But the classic
that saw arguably his best performances to date is Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields.
Many would assume that the record-holder for the number of podiums (6) at Gent-Wevelgem is a Belgian and possibly from the era when it was a local race or a semi-classic held on Wednesday between the Tour des Flandres and Paris-Roubaix.
But no, he’s from the current era, he’s not yet 30, he’s Slovakian and he has only known Gent-Wevelgem as a very competitive international event organised on the Sunday preceding the Tour des Flandres. The move on the calendar happened
with the inaugural UCI WorldTour in 2011. Sagan finished 49th in his first participation that year but already stepped up to second place behind Tom Boonen
12 months later. Since then, he missed out on the podium only once, in 2015, the edition that was hampered by horrendous conditions with gusts of wind and rain that turned the race into a battle of survival.
Sagan’s first victory in Wevelgem in 2013, which was his first victory in a Spring Classic, was also affected by weather: talk of cancelling the event led to shortening it by over 50km. The start was moved from Deinze to the coastal town of Gistel,
home of Johan Museeuw. Sagan was potentially the fastest of the 10-man front group against the likes of Greg van Avermaet and Borut Bozic, but he rode them off 4km before the finish, still wearing arm- and leg-warmers. He was racing for Cannondale,
the team he turned pro with, under the name of Liquigas in 2010. Flemish expert commentator Jose De Cauwer mentioned the “signature” of the new born champion of the Classics for his braveness to attack rather than gamble on his sprinting
abilities. Sagan then delivered two wheelies to the crowd after crossing the finishing line. He had won the green jersey and three stages in his first participation to the Tour de France eight months earlier – but that was the beginning of his
success story in the Classics.
He won his second Gent-Wevelgem in a four-man sprint in 2016 against Sep Vanmarcke, Vyacheslav Kuznetsov and Fabian Cancellara. It was his first victory wearing the rainbow jersey after eight second places (in Abu Dhabi, San Luis, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad,
Tirreno-Adriatico and E3 Harelbeke), putting an end to the legend of the curse hanging over the reigning road UCI World Champion. Two years later, being the only rider in history to have won the supreme title three years in a row, Sagan was an accomplished
champion and the most popular cyclist on the planet. After winning Gent-Wevelgem solo, then from a small breakaway group, this time he outsprinted no lesser figures than Elia Viviani, Arnaud Démare, Matteo Trentin, Michael Matthews and Van
Avermaet from a peloton of 23 riders. Viviani was fuming. It took the Italian a long time to swallow his defeat even though he knew his torturer better than anybody else: the two athletes began their pro careers together at Liquigas.
“This was the easiest Gent-Wevelgem I rode so far,” the Bora-hansgrohe rider commented, in reference to the weather conditions – without the usual wind and rain of West-Flanders - but also to the way he managed to dominate his adversaries
by racing stress free after having already achieved so much. This victory paved the way to his masterpiece at Paris-Roubaix. For the first few years of his career, Gent-Wevelgem was the Classic most suited to him because he used to struggle with the
length of the biggest ones, the Monuments,.
The era of the Sagan domination in Gent-Wevelgem also coincides with the inception of a women’s version of the race in 2012: Lizzie Armitstead being the first winner and Marta Bastianelli the most recent victor. It has been part of the
UCI Women’s WorldTour since 2016 when three more UCI labelled events were added to the programme. They’re part of the UCI Nations’ Cup U23, UCI Men Junior Nations’ Cup and UCI Women Junior Nations` Cup. Added to that are
two races that are part of the Belgian Cup U17 for men and women, meaning Gent-Wevelgem now offers seven competitions on one Sunday – the last in March!