Jolien D'hoore (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) are the winners of Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields 2020. For both riders it’s their first victories in this Classic, coming after similar races in both the women’s and men’s competitions, being decided by reduced sprints following a full gas breakaway featuring all the favorites.
“I’m really super happy, the team did a perfect job today. I’m so happy I could win in this special season. It’s a bit weird but it’s always nice and takes the pressure off if you can win,” said D’hoore, who claimed her win ahead of compatriot Lotte Kopecky (Team Lotto–Soudal Ladies) and Germany’s Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit–WNT Pro Cycling) after two second places in 2017 and 2018.
“I hoped that Van Aert and Van der Poel could close on Trentin, Bettiol and Sénéchal, but they didn’t so I jumped across and I could sprint from the last wheel, it was a perfect situation for me and I like to do long sprints. Today it was pretty hard with rain and cold, but this weather is ok for me. This victory is on the list of the biggest wins for me, I’m very happy,” said Pedersen. The 2019 UCI Road World Champion outsprinted the Frenchman Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and the Italians Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling) and Matteo Trentin (CCC).
A breathless sprint for D'hoore defeating Kopecky in the women’s race
The 141km women’s race started without the whole Alé BTC Ljubljana team, after one of the riders tested positive to Covid-19, and also without the 2013 and 2019 winner, the Netherlands’ Kirsten Wild: “Unfortunately, I am unable to defend my title Gent-Wevelgem because I returned a positive Covid-19 test on Friday,” she said.
American Emily Newsom (Tibco – Silicon Valley Bank) was the first to attack after just two kilometers. Several other brave riders tried to go clear, including 2018 UCI individual time trial Junior World Champion Rozemarijn Ammerlaan (NXTG Racing) from the Netherlands. The first solid breakaway came after 95km from Belgian Ann-Sophie Duyck (Team Parkhotel Valkenburg), Briton Lucy van der Haar (Team Hitec Products – Birk Sport), Dutchwoman Cathalijne Hoolwerf (NXTG Racing), Australian Shannon Malseed (Tibco – Silicon Valley Bank) and two riders from Team Rally Cycling, the American Leigh Ann Ganzar and Canada’s Sara Poidevin. They gained just a few seconds before being caught on the Scherpenberg, the first of the day’s seven ascents, with 80km to go.
On the following climbs of Vidaigneberg, Baneberg, Monteberg and the much anticipated Kemmelberg, nobody attacked, but the main group had a strong selection from behind. There were crashes involving Italian Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Arlenis Sierra (Astana Women's Team) and Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb) and, after the second passage on the Kemmelberg, with 35km remaining, there were only 15 women on the front, which further reduced to eleven after the downhill. The group included Briton Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), who recently won the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with team-mates Longo Borghini and the Netherlands’ Ellen van Dijk, D'Hoore and Brennauer.
In a breathless chase, the main group reduced the gap from the front to just 12 seconds with 5km to go. But the peloton failed to catch the attackers and in a high speed final sprint, D'Hoore beat her compatriot Lotte Kopecky and Brennauer.
A thrilling finale in the men’s race and the cold blood of Pedersen
Two Belgian riders were unable to take part in the race: Jan Bakelandts (Wanty-Group Gobert) who tested positive for Covid-19, and Tiesj Benoot (Team Sunweb) who was negative, but who had appeared with Bakelandts on TV after competing at Brabantse Pijl.
Seven riders broke away in the opening kilometers with Frenchmen Alexis Gougeard (AG2R) and Julien Morice (B&B Hotels), Italians Alexander Konychev (Mitchelton-Scott) and Leonardo Basso (Ineos Grenadiers), Belgians Kenny Molly (Bingoal) and Gilles De Wilde (Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and, surprisingly, 2011 UCI Road World Champion Mark Cavendish (Bahrain McLaren) from Great Britain.
The group let the gap grow to 7 minutes with 105km to go, then opened the gas and after the terrific pace of 2014 UCI World Champion Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) on the Kemmelberg it was reduced to only one minute, with 85km remaining. In the meanwhile, the peloton had split in two with only 40 riders able to stay on the front. The Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), who recently won BinckBank Tour, impressed a huge acceleration to tear the lead group apart and end the breakaway at 70km to go, and from that moment the attacks were relentless.
Briton Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers) selected the lead group and although, surprisingly, both Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) didn’t, they took advantage of the second and third passages on the Kemmelberg to first reduce and then erase the gap. Fifteen riders remained on the front with 35km to go, including Mads Pedersen, 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Bettiol and Trentin, 2015 Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal) from Germany and Sénéchal.
Swiss rider Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) went clear shortly after but eventually got caught at 25km to go. Only nine men were on the front in the last 15km, with all the favourites at the start and the fights kept going until 2km to go when Trentin and Bettiol, along with Sénéchal, gained some meters, but Pedersen chose the right time to catch them in the final kilometre, and won the sprint with confidence; a perfect tactical choice by the Dane for the most important Classics success of his career.