For Mathieu van der Poel Gent-Wevelgem was the first big race of his road season. With Van Aert being one of the strongest riders of the moment, the bar was set very high for Van der Poel right away.

How would both cyclocross stars perform? And would one of the previous women’s winners get a second victory? And could Peter Sagan (Bora – Hansgrohe) get his record fourth win at the sprinters’ classic?

Another trip through Flanders Fields gave us the answers.

Women’s Race

Gent – Wevelgem has hosted a Women’s race since 2012. During the seven races heading into Sunday’s race, no rider had won more than once.

Previous winners on the start line included Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu Cycling), Kirsten Wild (WNT Rotor Pro Cycling Team) and Chantal Blaak (Boels – Dolmans). Blaak won earlier this year at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, while Wild was busy winning the Omnium at the 2019 Track World Championships.

Speeds in the peloton were high early in the race, and as the field neared the last two climbs, all attempts at a break had been stopped.

On the Kemmelberg, with 38 km left, last year’s winner Bastianelli took the lead, but she was quickly marked by a number of other riders. The high pace set by the Italian delivered a leading group of 30-40 women, but after the last climb of the day, the Monteberg, a lot of other riders joined.

After the Monteberg, riders still had over 30km to go to the finish in Wevelgem. Facing a strong headwind, there were still some attacks out of the massive lead group.

Inside 30km to go, Sofia Bertizzolo (Team Virtu Cycling) attacked and Daniela Reis (Doltcini – Van Eyck Sport) joined her in a break, but the peloton kept them in sight and eventually brought them back.

In the final 10 km, Jip Van den Bos (Boels – Dolmans), Sarah Roy (Mitchelton – Scott) and Demi de Jong (Lotto Soudal Ladies) attacked but could not get a meaningful gap on the field.

As the final kilometers ticked down, it was apparent the race would come down to a bunch sprint, and a sizeable one at that.

The Trek – Segafredo time lined up on the right side of the road heading into the sprint, before the Dutch duo of Wild and Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) powered up the middle. Wild had the strongest kick to take the win, just like she did last Thursday at Brugge – De Panne.

Wiebes took second and Italian rider Letizia Paternoster (Trek – Segafredo Women’s Team) completed the podium.

Wild now is the sole record holder in Gent-Wevelgem with two victories.

“It was a tough one, it was a long one,” Wild said about the sprint. “I lost my lead-out rider for the finish, she punctured twice, so she didn’t have the legs anymore. But she put me in the right position and I just had to finish.”

She continued, “The signs with the meters came up a bit quicker than I thought they would. I thought, Whoa, this is only 150, I need to go now. It was still long, but it felt short.”

Full Women’s results available here

Video highlights:

Men’s Race

After the first break formed 40km into the race, it was toward the Belgian coast that the windy day started to take its first victims. After passing along the coast, the peloton broke into pieces, which resulted into a leading group of 20 riders that included a number of the race favorites.

After passing the windy West-Flemish region of De Moeren, the first chasing group was already 48 seconds behind. In the leading group, Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team was the best represented, but after De Moeren they lost two men: Van Poppel had a puntcture and in an attempt to get him into the leading group again, Van der Hoorn gave his wheel, but that sadly caused the loss of both of them.

After two hours of racing, the average speed even raised compared with the first hour: 52.8 km/h!

While the leading group was rotating like a machine, a peloton formed in the background. Towards the first climb of the day, the Catsberg in France, the peloton had a 1 minute 20 seconds arrears. Several teams started working to pull back the break, and with 80km to go, the advantage of the leaders was reduced to 41 seconds.

The first major obstacle of the race was the wind. With the cobblestone climb of the Kemmelberg, the second was coming up. On that Kemmelberg, it was Wout Van Aert who set the pace. The other survivors were Van der Poel, Sagan, Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton – Scott), Fernand Gaviria (UAE – Team Emirates), Cees Bol (Team Sunweb), Luke Rowe (Team Sky) and Mads Pedersen (Trek – Segafredo), and three others managed to close the gap a bit later.

One of the victims of Van Aert and the Kemmelberg was Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider Declerck. With no rider left in the leading group, the “Wolfpack” as well started pulling.

With a remaining 69 km, the group Van Aert had a 34 seconds advantage on the peloton, and the collaboration wasn’t optimal anymore. Sagan, Trentin, Edward Theuns (Trek – Segafredo) and Mike Teunissen (Jumbo – Visma) wanted to stay out of the peloton and left the others behind. On the first of 3 gravel roads, the 4 leaders had a 42-second advantage.

With no helpers left, the peloton didn’t come any closer to what was left of the now first chase. It was the sign for Rowe to try to close the gap on his own. With 43 km remaining, Rowe had completed his quest for the leading group.

With the Baneberg and the Kemmelberg coming up, Norwegian rider Kristoff wanted to anticipate and escaped the peloton. On the Baneberg, Van der Poel accelerated. Van Aert, however, put himself in the wheel of the Dutchman trying to protect the leading group with this teammate Teunissen.

Now the steepest side of the Kemmelberg was coming up. Cobblestones and a max gradient of 25% made clear Stybar and Van Aert were the strongest riders. Stybar accelerated and Van Aert followed, both riders eventually joining Kristoff.

Towards Ypres, a lot of others caught up with the three chasers. Once Italian rider Elia Viviani joined again, his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates started pulling. Lampaert pushed hard and reduced the advantage of the leaders to 24 seconds. Once past the Menin Gate (= Menenpoort), his work was done.

Now Gilbert and Stybar had to close the remaining seconds. It looked like a lost cause for the four leaders, but Rowe didn’t want to give up. He accelerated while the other three got swallowed by the peloton, but with 17 km left, Rowe got caught as well.

With everybody caught it was waiting for a new attack. First it was Terpstra, then Pederson, but both times Jumbo – Visma closed the gap. Gilbert and cyclocrosser Gianni Vermeersch (Corendon – Circus) were both active, but nobody was able to escape.

With 6 km left, Jasper Stuyven (Trek – Segafredo) attacked. Bauer (Mitchelton – Scott), Langeveld (EF Education First) and Jansen (Jumbo – Visma) reacted. In the peloton, Gilbert and Stybar were once again the ones trying to close the gap in order to give Viviani a chance to sprint for the win. Gilbert and Stybar both lost a lot of energy already and didn’t seem able to close the gap.

With 1 km to go Stuyven, Bauer, Langeveld and Jansen still had an advantage, but then Direct Energie started pulling. Viviani would be able to sprint for the win after all.

Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) was the one launching the sprint. Five riders still passed the Frenchmen.

The fastest of those five turned out to be Alexander Kristoff. After the first stage in the Tour of Oman, Kristoff took his second win of 2019.

“Fernando Gaviria told me in the last 10 km he didn’t feel good, so he told me to go for the sprint myself,” Kristoff told Sporza. “Normally I was supposed to lead him out. I found the good wheel and in the end, I was the strongest in the sprint.”

German rider John Degenkolb finished 2nd, Naesen 3rd, Van der Poel 4th and Van Poppel 5th. Viviani apparently had lost too much energy during the race to have a chance in the sprint.

“I got stuck two times in the sprint. If I can sprint freely, maybe I could have been closer,” Van der Poel told Sporza after the race.

Full Men’s results available here

Other Results

The big news of the day for U.S. cycling fans came in the Junior races.

Quinn Simmons won the Junior Men’s race.

Megan Jastrab followed up her Junior Women’s win at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in Italy last week with a second-place finish at Gent – Wevelgem.