Sometimes patience wins bike races, and Vos knows how to wait
Gent-Wevelgem was a relatively calm race, until it wasn’t.
After nearly 19 kilometres off the front, it was touch and go whether or not Elisa Longo Borghini or Soraya Paladin were going to win Gent-Wevelgem. After a few km and mere seconds of separation, the two were brought back just in time for Marianne Vos to sprint to victory, the first win for her new Jumbo-Visma team. She waited patiently for the strongest rider in the peloton currently to be reeled in and delivered the winning blow with impeccable timing.
The action started on the Kemmelberg when Elisa Longo Borghini made her first move of the day and caused a group of heavy favorites to ride off the front. When the race came back together again, and when Trek-Segafredo’s sprinter Chloe Hosking took a tumble, the team that was so impressive at Trofeo Alfredo Binda had to try another tactic.
Around 20 km to go, the peloton turned directly into a crosswind, and Trek-Segafredo made the most boss move of the day. Ellen van Dijk, Lizzie Deignan, Ruth Winder, and Longo Borghini got to the front and hit the pace. They immediately caused massive splits in the peloton. Only three other riders could follow.
It was clear at Strade Bianche and again at Trofeo Alfredo Binda that Elisa Longo Borghini is on the form of her life. As the four Trek-Segafredo riders rotated, distancing themselves from the peloton, Deignan could be seen talking into her radio when Longo Borghini was on the front.
Not long after the separation happened Longo Borghini rode off the front of the small selection. Whether it was the team plan or simply because the Italian national champion got a little too excited is unclear. Although, with such a strong peloton full of sprinters hoping for a bunch kick at the line behind, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense to send one rider off the front. With Longo Borghini riding away, Van Dijk and Deignan could no longer ride in the breakaway.
Meanwhile, in the chasing pack behind Vos sat patiently. She had seen the wind only once before the finale of the race when she bridged to the breakaway that went on the Kemmelberg. Her teammates had been active, jumping off the front and sliding into moves, making sure Vos didn’t have to spend energy. When Trek-Segafredo forced their move Vos’s Jumbo-Visma team helped a bit but left the chasing to the more eager Canyon-SRAM and Ceratizit-WNT.
As Longo Borghini rode in the wind, eventually not even assisted by her break-mate Soraya Paladin, Vos did nothing.
In the end, Longo Borghini’s attempt was in vain, she was caught within the final kilometre and Vos sprinted to her first victory of the season. With her attack on the Kemmelberg and 19 km long move a case can be made for Longo Borghini being the strongest rider in the race, but it takes more than legs to win a bike race, and Vos once again was the definition of experience as she crossed the line in De Panne. Had Longo Borghini not ridden away immediately and instead used that form to give their selection more of an advantage on the peloton, they could have driven the gap until the move was established and send Longo Borghini off the front with 5 km to go. If that failed, they could then send Van Dijk or Deignan. They would have had a few more options to take another win.