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Alexander Kristoff and Kirsten Wild sprint to Gent-Wevelgem titles, Miguel Ángel López fends off rivals in final stage to win Volta a Catalunya. Those stories and more in today’s Daily News Digest.
Story of the Day: Kristoff wins Gent-Wevelgem
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) took his first spring Classics win since 2015 with a powerful sprint at Gent-Wevelgem. The 31-year-old Norwegian survived a long, challenging day of racing in Belgium to boss the final sprint ahead of John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Kristoff called the victory “one of the biggest” in his career – a career that also includes wins at the Tour of Flanders and Milano-Sanremo.
Continuing a weekend of thrilling classics racing that started with Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) winning Friday’s E3 BinckBank Classic, Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem wasted little time in providing plenty of intrigue.
The race may have ended in a bunch sprint, but the fast finish came only after a day of aggressive racing, starting with a stunning early breakaway that included the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Niki Terpstra (Direct-Énergie), Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), and even star sprinter Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates).
The powerhouse move got clear some 50 kilometers into the 250-kilometer race, and stayed clear for much of the afternoon with a gap that hovered around a minute. The escape group stayed mostly intact over the first handful of climbs, before a first ascent of the Kemmelberg with 80 kilometers to go saw several riders shelled out the back of both the breakaway and the peloton.
Most of the top names in the escape made it over the cobbled climb together, but Sagan, Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), and Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) took advantage of the tired legs of their breakaway companions to attack with just under 70 kilometers to go and form a new lead group of just four riders.
While the rest of the early breakaway was mopped up, the quartet out front worked well together to maintain a healthy advantage as the kilometers ticked down toward Wevelgem. Four became five when Luke Rowe (Sky), a member of the initial move that had been swept up by the pack, kicked again and managed to bridge all the way to front. Then it was Kristoff himself who jumped out of the peloton shortly ahead of the second trip up the Kemmelberg, the final climb of the day.
Kristoff was re-absorbed by the pack on the climb, where aggressive racing forced several splits, but the reduced peloton was more or less together again shortly not long after the top with 30 kilometers to go. From there, Quick-Step took up the task of chasing down the riders up the road. Even with Sagan in the mix, the five leaders could not hold off the fierce chase behind. The gap evaporated over the ensuing kilometers, and the catch was made with 17 kilometers to go.
Amund Grondahl Jansen (Jumbo-Visma), Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First), Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-Scott), and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) attacked to form a dangerous escape inside the final 10 kilometers. The quartet initially opened up a gap several seconds as the peloton hesitated to organize behind, leading to some nervous moments for the sprinters as it seemed like the late escape had a real chance to go the distance.
Fortunately for the fast finishers, Quick-Step helped marshal the chase with two kilometers to go, and as other teams pitched in, the catch was made just after the flamme rouge. Then it was all up to the sprinters. Jumbo-Visma led into the final push, but Kristoff was lurking just behind. When he jumped with over 200 meters to go, no one could touch him.
“[Gaviria] told me in the last 10 k that he didn’t feel good. He said go for yourself,” Kristoff said. “Of course I was tired, it was a hard day from the start, but everyone was on the limit and I always have a good sprint when everyone is tired.”
Quick-Step, despite the hard work that helped bring the race back together, did not place a rider inside the top 10 after Elia Viviani found himself boxed in in the sprint. More opportunities await for the powerhouse Belgian squad and the rest of the classics hopefuls, however, as Dwars door Vlaanderen and then the Tour of Flanders itself await over the coming week.
Beauty of Cycling
For all the stunning beauty the Alps and the Dolomites have to offer, there is something special about the more modest hellingen of Flanders this time of year. Race reports can only paint so vivid a picture of the cycling heartland in spring. As our editor-in-chief Caley Fretz puts it, “it’s a job better suited to pictures.”
Jared and Ashley Gruber captured the magic of the bike racing, the beer, and the frites in a gallery from Friday’s E3.
López wins the Volta a Catalunya
Miguel Ángel López (Astana) wrapped up the overall victory at the Volta a Catalunya, defending his race lead in an aggressive seventh and final stage in Barcelona. The Colombian survived a dangerous attack from Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on a rolling finishing circuit to claim his first WorldTour stage race title since the 2016 Tour de Suisse.
Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) nabbed the well-earned stage 7 win after a long day off the front.
López rode into the race lead in the fourth stage. He held on through stage 5, which went to an attack by Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), and a sprinter-friendly stage 6 that Michael Matthews (Sunweb) won by a tire width. Then it was down to a lumpy stage 7 to decide the race.
Formolo and the rest of the breakaway got clear in the first few minutes of the day, with Astana, Sky, and Mitchelton-Scott leading the way in the peloton for much of the afternoon. With 58 kilometers to go, the riders arrived on a lumpy finishing circuit for the first of eight laps, and it wasn’t long before the racing heated up.
A big crash with 40 kilometers to go saw several riders hit the deck. Among the fallers was Romain Bardet, who would abandon the race and is undergoing evaluation for possible broken ribs, according to Ag2r La Mondiale.
Shortly after the crash in the peloton behind, Formolo attacked the remaining survivors of the early break, jumping away for good in what would ultimately be the stage-winning move. Attacks flew from the bunch as well, with Yates, Egan Bernal (Sky), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) making for a powerful escape group. The peloton brought them to heel after a few minutes, but the attacks kept coming.
Adam Yates linked up with brother and teammate Simon Yates to form a dangerous move with 20 kilometers to go. Their combined work quickly opened up a gap of over a minute, putting López under serious pressure. With help from Quick-Step’s James Knox, still ahead of the peloton after the early breakaway, Adam Yates spent several kilometers as virtual race leader, but López was not to be denied. He did much of the chasing in the final two laps himself before getting a hand from Sky and Movistar. Yates, alone for the final lap, kept things interesting until the final few minutes, but was caught with two kilometers to go.
Formolo cruised to the win out front, with Enric Mas (Deceuninck-QuickStep) jumping from the pack to take second on the day ahead of Schachmann. Yates settled for second overall behind López, with Bernal rounding out the GC podium
Wild sprints to Gent-Wevelgem win
Kirsten Wild powered to her second WorldTour win in four days with a convincing sprint win at Gent-Wevelgem. Following up on her victory at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne, the 36-year-old WNT-Rotor rider proved fastest in a bunch kick in Wevelgem, topping Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) with 19-year-old Letizia Paternoster (Trek-Segafredo) delivering an impressive third.
The 137-kilometer trek from Ieper was raced hard from the gun, with a fast-moving peloton quickly chasing down every attempt to get clear for the better part of a hundred kilometers. Marta Bastianelli (Virtu) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) opened up a small gap on the second trip up the Kemmelberg with around 40 kilometers to go, but were brought back by a whittled down pack. Sofia Bertizzolo (Virtu) and Daniela Reis (Doltcini-Van Eyck) were the next attackers to form a meaningful gap, but they too were mopped up with 20 kilometers left to race.
The peloton closed down one attempt to get away after another over the last 25 minutes of the day before it became clear that the race was headed for a sprint finale in Wevelgem. Wild positioned herself near the front the final kilometer, allowing Trek to lead into the sprint.
Wild jumped with 200 meters to go and surged well ahead of her rivals in a no time at all. No one came close to pulling even as she drove for the line to take the clear win, with De Panne runner-up Wiebes settling for second again.
Hamilton tops all-Mitchelton podium at Coppi e Bartali
Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott) claimed the overall title at the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, and stood atop the final podium flanked by teammates Damien Howson and Nick Schultz.
The Australian WorldTour team won the stage 1b team time trial, setting up Hamilton, Howson, and Schultz to pull into the top three spots on the overall leaderboard when the trio put in a strong showing in stage 2. They held on through the fifth and final stage to seal an all-Mitchelton podium at the end of the race.
If you want to see the pros enjoying coffee rides in the springtime, Belgium is the place to be. As Adam Blythe points out in the Tweet of the weekend, the world’s best bike racers feel right at home in Flanders this time of year.
Michael Matthews pipped Phil Bauhaus in one of the closest sprints of so far this season in Saturday’s stage 6 at the Volta a Catalunya. Neither rider celebrated at the line, and you can understand why.
The finish line photo would confirm it for Matthews, who took his second win of the race by a few centimeters.
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