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70th Gent-Wevelgem - ProT
Belgium, April 9, 2008
Oscar 'The Cat' Freire takes revenge
Three-time World Champ the first Spaniard to win Gent-Wevelgem
By Bjorn Haake and Brecht Decaluwé in Wevelgem, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown
Oscar Freire won the 70th Gent-Wevelgem from a bunch sprint, forced by his strong Rabobank team, which reeled in the last breakaway attempts with two kilometres remaining. The 32 year-old Spaniard was perfectly led-out and started the sprint early, with more than 250m to go, on the right hand side of the road. Neither Aurélien Clerc (Bouygues Telecom) nor Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step) could come around and finished in second and third, respectively.
An exhausted Freire said that "I had good legs, but the race was difficult to control. There was a head wind in the end."
He was aware of the historic implication of his victory. "It's great, I am the first Spaniard who has won here." But he was convinced that sooner or later it had to come that way. Juan Antonio "Flecha could have won it, if there wouldn't have been any motorbikes; seems it was the organiser's fault [in 2005 - ed.] And I was close last year." And he was happy that unlike last year, when he had to surrender to Team T-Mobile in the decisive break, "this year, I could celebrate a beautiful victory."
Swiss Clerc was not too unhappy by finishing behind the favorito numero uno. "Well, although I had good legs, Freire did create a big gap on us, so I'm not too disappointed. Of course, a win in a race like this would've been fantastic," Clerc daydreamed about things that didn't happen. He had the best possible position to start sprinting. "I sat on Freire's wheel, and that wheel delivered me a great result," Clerc smiled.
The second assent of the Kemmelberg lit up the action with 39 kilometres to go, but could not prevent a bunch sprint in the end. The danger break of Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Matti Breschel (Team CSC) and Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), which developed the second time up the cobbled 'Kemmel,' was interrupted when Breschel flatted. The peloton did break in half after the Kemmelberg, reducing the number of potential contenders quite a bit.
CSC's attempt to let first Kurt-Asle Arvesen – with Martin Elmiger (Ag2r-La Mondiale) – and then Stuart O'Grady – with Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) – slip off the front seemed to be working when the two groups merged, with ten kilometres to go. However, with the first peloton never more than a good half-dozen seconds behind, the bunch sprint materialised, when the last attempts by O'Grady and Quinziato were stopped cold at 1800 metres to go.
The high speeds through the streets of Wevelgem prevented any last-minute attacks, where Team Liquigas tried to control things before Rabobank re-emerged ahead of the peloton on the finishing straight to deliver its star rider for a long, final push to the line.
One rider was extremely irritated after the race. Mark Cavendish couldn't deliver the win for High Road, since he didn't even sprint. "Too dangerous, too dangerous," the British rider shouted. "There was no wind and people sprinted who can't even sprint. Okay, it's their right, as it's a one-day race." Cavendish continued fuming. "I nearly crashed five times in the last two kilometres. Five times!" Did he have the legs to win? "Yes, but I didn't even sprint."
Freire confirmed that the sprints are dangerous, but it was nothing new for him. "Dangerous? Yes, between us cyclists. But in the end it was a great race." He admitted there are "some dangerous sprinters out there," but would not give names. Freire just stated that "it's modern cycling. Positioning is very important."
Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) rode a strong race and featured in the first group that made it over the Kemmelberg, which is often a key moment in the Belgian race. "On the Kemmelberg I went full gas and afterwards I noticed that I didn't have any team-mates around," McEwen explained. When asked whether a team-mate could've helped him into a better position, McEwen agreed. "Of course, it would be of some help. It doesn't matter who would've done it, as long as there would be someone. I tried to find my own way in the sprint, but I received a couple of nudges during the build-up. I was in a good position, but I ended up riding in the wind during the final kilometre."
The 35 year-old is still without a win in the 2008 season, although illness and some crashes bothered his build-up this season (see feature). "I haven't been able to think about winning up until now. I hoped on today, but it didn't happen. Actually I'm okay with the current situation. It's the press that makes a big deal out of it." Two weeks ago, McEwen pointed out that he is keen on winning one of the 'semi-classics' this season -- namely Dwars door Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and the Scheldeprijs -- the first two events have been claimed by Sylvian Chavanel and Oscar Freire, so next week is the last chance for him to add to his rich palmarès during the Spring Classics season.
Flecha gained 40 points in the ProTour competition, tying him with Nick Nuyens for fourth. Despite being sick and not able to start the race, German André Greipel (High Road) kept his lead, with 62 points. Ronde van Vlaanderen winner, Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), holds second with 50 points, and José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) is in third with 45 points.
How it unfolded
The riders of the 70th Gent-Wevelgem rolled out of the start town, Deinze, around 11:45 under partly-cloudy skies. Non-starters were Tomas Vaitkus (Astana) and ProTour leader André Greipel (High Road).
Immediately attacks marked the race as it travelled westward towards De Panne. Active in a group of 18 riders were Servais Knaven (High Road), Artur Gajek (Team Milram) and Alessandro Donati (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo). Three kilometres later, with 195 kilometres remaining, the group was pulled back by the fast-charging peloton, led for some time by Het Volk winner Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux).
Olivier Kaisen (Silence-Lotto) surged at 187 kilometres remaining, but the move by the Belgian came to nothing. It was not until kilometre 107 (with 102km to go) that any rider was allowed space, and that privilege was granted to one rider, Italian Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott). The 22 year-old quickly gained an advantage, and by kilometre 125 (with 84km to go) he had nine minutes.
The gap shot up to over 10 minutes with 85 kilometre remaining with teams High Road and Silence-Lotto leading the charge. However, the gap was down by one minute on the first approach to the town of Kemmel.
Alexandre Blain (Cofidis) and Roy Curvers (Skil-Shimano) were involved in a little incident at kilometre 136. Both riders were able to continue racing, trying to re-join the Liquigas-led peloton. Capelli maintained 8'03" at this point.
Capelli started the Monteberg, kilometre 140, with 6'40" in hand. At the foot of the Kemmelberg, with 61 kilometers remaining, Capelli had 6'10" over the peloton. The Italian climbed with grace, managing his strength for the race finale. Matti Breschel (Team CSC) led Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) over the top of Kemmelberg with a gap on the main pack and 4'46" behind the leader.
Gilbert launched an attack with 53 kilometres remaining to bridge the gap crated by Pozzato and Breschel, who were now some 40 seconds off the main group. Five kilometres later, the Belgian joined the Italian and Dane; the trio were 3'13" behind Capelli and 1'20" ahead of the peloton.
Matti Breschel (Team CSC) flatted at kilometre 171 and was forced to return to the peloton. The duo pressed on. Capelli hit the base of the Kemmelberg with 1'57" on Pozzato and Gilbert, and 2'55" on the peloton. Ballan was up front and active withinin the peloton.
The race started to really take shape over the top of the second passage of the Kemmelberg, where Capelli had 45" over Pozzato and Gilbert. A group formed with Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), they got a small gap over the main group, which was being led by Rabobank for Freire.
At 30 kilometres to go, Capelli had 25" on Pozzato and Gilbert and 38" on the main chase. Gilbert led Pozzato when they tagged Capelli at 27 kilometres from Wevelgem. Capelli held on the back, as the trio had 20 seconds over the Rabobank charge. In addition to the Dutch team, there was Team High Road gathering at the front for Mark Cavendish.
Two kilometres later it was gruppo compatto. The next move came with 18 kilometres remaining, when E3 Prijs winner, Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), launched free and then was joined by Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale). The Norwegian/Swiss duo gained 15 seconds.
Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) worked off the front, being marked by Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC). The trio were five seconds off the front duo and 10 seconds ahead of the main chase at 12 kilometres remaining. Two kilometres later, the three joined the duo, to form a move of five, which had two CSC riders: O'Grady and Arvesen.
Their fight was good, but the gap was slim and their capture came with 1,800 metres to go.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by Bjorn Haake/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com
1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 4.53.06 (42.784 km/h) 2 Aurélien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues Telecom 3 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step 4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram 5 Kenny De Haes (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 6 Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 7 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 8 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC 9 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner 10 Roger Hammond (GBr) Team High Road 11 Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 12 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner 13 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas 14 Rony Martias (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 15 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 16 Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus) Mitsubishi-Jartazi 17 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team High Road 18 Sven Renders (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 19 Tom Veelers (Ned) Skil-Shimano 20 Matti Breschel (Den) Team CSC 21 Koldo Fernandez De Larrea (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 22 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana 23 Baden Cooke (Aus) Barloworld 24 Michael Schär (Swi) Astana 25 Arnaud Coyot (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne 26 Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Team Milram 27 Borut Bozic (Slo) Cycle Collstrop 28 Renaud Dion (Fra) AG2r - La Mondiale 29 Alexandre Usov (Blr) AG2r - La Mondiale 30 Aaron Kemps (Aus) Astana 31 Aurélien Passeron (Fra) Saunier Duval - Scott 32 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 33 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence - Lotto 34 Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 35 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC 36 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quick Step 37 Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 38 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2r - La Mondiale 39 Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Skil-Shimano 40 Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 41 Jesus DEL NERO MONTES 42 Marco Marcato (Ita) Cycle Collstrop 43 Koen De Kort (Ned) Astana 44 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Crédit Agricole 45 Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 46 Juan José Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 47 Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2r - La Mondiale 48 Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr) AG2r - La Mondiale 49 Martin Müller (Ger) Team Milram 50 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Crédit Agricole 51 Christophe Mengin (Fra) Française des Jeux 52 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre 53 George Hincapie (USA) Team High Road 54 Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Crédit Agricole 55 Massimiliano Mori (Ita) Lampre 56 Luca Barla (Ita) Team Milram 57 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 58 Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Liquigas 59 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Lampre 60 Steffen Wesemann (Swi) Cycle Collstrop 61 Andreas Klier (Ger) Team High Road 62 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux 63 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step 64 Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas 65 Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Spa) Rabobank 66 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC 67 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 68 Tom Leezer (Ned) Rabobank 69 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank 70 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre 71 Yannick Talabardon (Fra) Crédit Agricole 72 Vincent Jérôme (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 73 Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank 74 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quick Step 75 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas 76 Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas 77 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step 78 José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 79 Ermanno Capelli (Ita) Saunier Duval - Scott 0.13 80 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank 0.15 81 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française des Jeux 0.19 82 Carlo Scognamiglio (Ita) Barloworld 0.46 83 Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Barloworld 0.51 84 Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den) Team CSC 85 Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 86 Luciano André Pagliarini Mendonca (Bra) Saunier Duval - Scott 1.09 87 Alexandre Blain (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 88 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Astana 89 Raul Alarcon Garcia (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott 90 Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 4.58 91 Giuseppe Palumbo (Ita) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 92 Kevin Neirynck (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 93 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank 94 James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Mitsubishi-Jartazi 95 Bastian Giling (Ned) Cycle Collstrop 96 Stefan Van Dijk (Ned) Mitsubishi-Jartazi 97 Kurt Hovelynck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 98 Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Ned) Skil-Shimano 99 Andrea Masciarelli (Ita) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 100 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Team High Road 101 Vytautas Kaupas (Ltu) Mitsubishi-Jartazi 102 Kristof Goddaert (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 103 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2r - La Mondiale 104 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 105 Servais Knaven (Ned) Team High Road 106 Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 107 Steven Kleynen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 108 Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 109 Laurent Mangel (Fra) AG2r - La Mondiale 110 Francisco Javier Aramendia (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 111 Daryl Impey (RSA) Barloworld 112 Erki Pütsep (Est) Bouygues Telecom 113 Aleksandr Kuchynski (Blr) Liquigas 114 Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Cycle Collstrop 115 Matthé Pronk (Ned) Cycle Collstrop 116 Andrei Kunitski (Blr) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 117 Frank Hoj (Den) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 118 Jürgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence - Lotto 119 Alessandro Donati (Ita) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 120 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Lampre 121 Christopher Froome (Ken) Barloworld 122 Marco Bandiera (Ita) Lampre 123 Oscar Gatto (Ita) Gerolsteiner 124 Geert Omloop (Bel) Mitsubishi-Jartazi 125 Patrick Calcagni (Swi) Barloworld 126 Michal Golas (Pol) Cycle Collstrop 127 Yohann Gène (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 128 Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Crédit Agricole 129 Sebastian Siedler (Ger) Skil-Shimano 130 Stephan Schreck (Ger) Gerolsteiner 131 Mathieu Drujon (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne 132 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC 133 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas 134 Enrico Poitschke (Ger) Team Milram 135 Thomas Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 136 Markus Eichler (Ger) Team Milram 137 Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram 138 Artur Gajek (Ger) Team Milram 139 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Crédit Agricole 140 Fabien Patanchon (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne 141 Timothy Gudsell (NZl) Française des Jeux 142 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre 143 Mickael Delage (Fra) Française des Jeux 144 José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 145 Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 146 Sven Krauss (Ger) Gerolsteiner 147 Mathieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française des Jeux 148 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française des Jeux 149 Nick Gates (Aus) Silence - Lotto 150 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 151 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step 152 Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Silence - Lotto 153 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Française des Jeux 154 Maarten Den Bakker (Ned) Skil-Shimano 155 Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil-Shimano 156 Josu Agirre Aseginolaza (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 157 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step 158 Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 159 Romain Villa (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 160 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team High Road 161 Ian Stannard (GBr) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 162 Mathieu Heijboer (Ned) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 163 Wim De Vocht (Bel) Silence - Lotto 164 Beñat Albizuri Aransolo (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 165 René Haselbacher (Aut) Astana 166 Grégory Rast (Swi) Astana 167 Yann Huguet (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 168 Stéphane Poulhies (Fra) AG2r - La Mondiale 169 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Team CSC 170 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence - Lotto 171 Marco Corti (Ita) Barloworld 172 Bert Roesems (Bel) Silence - Lotto 173 Raynold Smith (RSA) Cycle Collstrop 174 Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 175 Lander Aperribay (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 10.25 176 Niko Eeckhout (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 177 Denis Flahaut (Fra) Saunier Duval - Scott 178 Tom Steels (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner 179 Simone Masciarelli (Ita) Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 180 Carlo Westphal (Ger) Gerolsteiner 181 Michiel Elijzen (Ned) Rabobank 182 Jens Mouris (Ned) Mitsubishi-Jartazi Teams 1 Bouygues Telecom 2 Team CSC 3 Caisse d'Epargne 4 Astana 5 Gerolsteiner 6 Team Milram 7 Team High Road 8 Ag2r-La Mondiale 9 Quick Step 10 Topsport Vlaanderen 11 Credit Agricole 12 Euskaltel - Euskadi 13 Acqua Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 14 Cycle Collstrop 15 Rabobank 16 Liquigas 17 Saunier Duval-Scott 18 Skil-Shimano 19 Lampre 20 Barloworld 21 Française Des Jeux 22 Mitsubishi-Jartazi 23 Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone 24 Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner 25 Silence-Lotto ProTour Rankings Individual 1 André Greipel (Ger) Team High Road 62 pts 2 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step 50 3 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 45 4 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 40 5 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 40 6 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank 35 7 Aurélien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues Telecom 30 8 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre 30 9 Mickael Delage (Fra) Française des Jeux 30 10 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step 25 11 George Hincapie (USA) Team High Road 25 12 Mickaël Buffaz (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 25 13 Alberto Benitez Roman (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott 21 14 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram 20 15 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas 20 16 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC 15 17 Kjell Carlström (Fin) Liquigas 15 18 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence - Lotto 10 19 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 10 20 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC 7 21 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Crédit Agricole 7 22 Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre 5 23 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank 4 24 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3 25 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC 2 26 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 2 27 Roger Hammond (GBr) Team High Road 1 28 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank 1 Teams 1 Team CSC 46 pts 2 Team High Road 43 3 Astana 42 4 Caisse d'Epargne 40 5 Quick Step 40 6 Française Des Jeux 33 7 Liquigas 33 8 Silence-Lotto 32 9 Rabobank 29 10 Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone 29 11 Team Milram 27 12 Saunier Duval-Scott 26 13 Euskaltel - Euskadi 25 14 Ag2r-La Mondiale 25 15 Bouygues Telecom 22 16 Gerolsteiner 21 17 Lampre 18 18 Credit Agricole 16 Nations 1 Spain 151 pts 2 Belgium 125 3 Germany 87 4 France 55 5 Italy 50 6 Switzerland 30 7 United States Of America 25 8 Australia 19 9 Norway 15 10 Finland 15 11 Slovenia 5 12 Denmark 2 13 Great Britain 1