Gent Wevelgem: Wout Van Aert Victory

A group of seven riders battled for the win in the 2021 Edition of Gent Wevelegem with Wout van Aert fastest from Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin

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Gent Wevelgem: Wout Van Aert Victory

In the opening hours of the race it became clear that the wind was going to play a role. Team Jumbo-Visma rode attentively from the front and had two men in the first echelon with Van Hooydonck and Van Aert. The early breakaway was caught and together with the front echelon that had split from the rest raced quickly to the West Flemish hills. On the bergs, and plugstreets, the chasing groups were not closing the gap and never returned to the front of the race despite plenty of attacks from riders not represented up front.

Van Aert impressed on the Kemmelberg but his breakaway rivals and teammate Van Hooydonck stayed closed to him. A key moment was when Van Hooydonck in the final section of the race accelerated and the rest had to chase him to close the gap as Van Aert let the wheel go. This move alone saw favourite Sam Bennett dropped along with van Poppel.

Wout Van Aert: “This means a lot to me. Of course I have already won many beautiful races, but in the Flemish races it often just didn’t work out. I was waiting for this. I’m super happy with this, of course. As a team we have continuously kept the focus on the wind and the echelons. You know that’s almost always the case in this race”, Van Aert said.

“It soon broke open and I was in the right echelon with Nathan. We worked well together and kept control of the race. The confidence in the final sprint was there, of course.” Talking about his teammate Van Hooydonck, Wout van Aert said “I was encouraging Nathan all along to survive the last time on the Kemmelberg. He did. That was really super strong of him. I knew I was going to need him a lot afterwards. In the last kilometre he took the lead. A top notch performance. Hats off to him.”

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Nathan Van Hooydonck: “Today we proved that we can win a race even without a dominant team”, the outstanding Van Hooydonck said. “This is really a fantastic feeling. We always kept on riding. We had to, because the chasers were never really far. Wout told me to keep up the pace. Sometimes it was a bit of a lynch mob between the many sprinters, but then I quickly caught up to keep the pace. It’s clear that in the end we rode to the finish with the strongest seven riders. Wout can do everything, so I never doubted that he would win the sprint.”

Van Hooydonck was also happy with his own performance, especially looking ahead to the Tour of Flanders. “It is great that I have now been able to show myself. I will go to next Sunday with a lot of morale.” The break went a long way out, 180km to go. “At the time, I didn’t have the impression that we were going to ride to the finish, but the gap only increased. It was two minutes at one point. We just kept riding and rode hard on the climbs. Then it is difficult to come back. The first group was a little bit too big, but after the first time at Kemmel, things got smoother”, explains Van Hooydonck.

“They did not make it easy for me, but I knew when I was back in the group (after being gapped) that we were racing to the finish with this leading group. I felt that I lacked explosiveness on the climbs but also that I recovered well and that I could also do my work afterwards. I had said to Wout that I was no longer feeling well, but then I saw Küng go and I went as fast as possible myself.”

Matteo Trentin (UAE): “The race was very good but tough. Together with the other guys in front we worked well pushing hard and making sure to not allow the pursuers to close the gap. The third place in the sprint always leaves a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth, I would have liked to win, but getting on the podium together with the strongest is still a good result ”.

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick Step): “I came to the start very confident after my win in Classic Brugge-De Panne and knew it was going to be a tough race, but it ended up exceeding all expectations due to the brutal winds that wreaked havoc and split the race with more than 150 kilometers to go. I found myself in a good position, it was the perfect echelon with a lot of the right guys, a mix of sprinters and Classics riders, which was a guarantee that people would pull and be really involved in this move.

The gap was small in the beginning, but it then went over two minutes before hitting the hills and that was the moment our chances of making it increased. We all worked well together and we still had a good gap the first time up the Kemmelberg. I felt good on the climbs, although you could feel those hills sapping your energy, but the sensations I had changed the third and last time we tackled the Kemmelberg. I went a bit too much into the red and although I managed to hang in, I paid for this later as my legs were full of lactic acid.

I also made a mistake, as I ate a lot during the race so I didn’t want to run out of fuel, but I overdid it and had too much in my stomach inside the final hour of racing, which everybody could see when I threw up. Because of this and the effort I put in during the day, it just happened and I ended up going from one extreme to another, as after this I was completely empty and had no more energy left. I felt a bit better after that moment, but my race was over so I just rode at my own pace until the finish. It’s the first time I found myself in such a situation, but in the end it’s something from which I will learn.

It’s kind of disappointing, as I was really hoping I could get a good result, but it is as it is and it’s not something I could anticipate. As I said, it’s my fault but I’ll learn from this and take only the good things from this race, which is that I was in the front with the Classics guys, I felt good on the hills and in the echelons, could produce a solid ride until with 40 kilometers to go and did a lot of things the right way. All these things make me happy and give me a lot of confidence that in the future, when I would like to race more classics, I have what it takes to feature in the finale of these races. I would like to come back stronger here in Gent-Wevelgem and get to fight for victory one day.

Michael Matthews (BikeExchange): “Before the race we had a really good meeting, Mat Hayman gave us a really good idea at around 70km into the race we would move to the front as a team and position ourselves for the crosswind. It worked, I think we got a split of around 25 guys and we had five guys there at that point. That worked really well and then we worked all through the race to try and keep things together and give me the best opportunity for the sprint in the final. There were seven of us left in the final for the kick and I didn’t have the legs to win the sprint unfortunately, but I gave it my best, the team did an awesome job today, so I’m looking forward to next weekend now.”

Giacomo Nizzolo – Team Qhubeka Assos: “It was a crazy race today with the bunch splitting really early. We found really collaboration among the front group from the beginning of the action. In the end it was a really hard race, and the legs were tired, so it was a strange sprint, with a tailwind. I decided to take the sprint from last position, I don’t know if it was the right decision but that’s what I did and I did my best, so I am happy. This is an important result for our team and the Qhubeka Charity. Bicycles change lives, and it is so important for us to bring this message to such an important race as today.”

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