Gent - Wevelgem is typically known as a sprinter's classic, but due to incredibly bad weather, including crosswinds that blew riders off bikes and all over the road, the race was far from conducive for a group arrival.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) won the 240km race on Sunday solo, attacking out of a seven rider group. The group included Etixx - Quick-Step rider Niki Terpstra, who was 2nd, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), finishing 3rd, and Stijn Vandenbergh, crossing in 4th. The group caught solo rider Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) with 17.7km to go after he had been away — after catching and dropping Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo)— since 74.9km to go. He gained a maximum advantage of more than two minutes, but it was not enough to hold off a group that included Paolini, Thomas, Daniel Oss (BMC Racing Team), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal), Terpstra, and Vandenbergh.
By the time the small group closed in on Roelandts the peloton was well out of contention, and was reduced to a small number. Oss had lost contact in the process of chasing down Roelandts.
Terpstra suffered a mechanical around the time Roelandts was caught, but made his way back to the group and attacked immediately. From that moment until the final winning move of Paolini there was attack after attack, with Vandenbergh and Terpstra both present and accelerating several times. Paolini rode away from the group with 6.3km to go and was able to hold his advantage until he crossed the line solo. Terpstra tried an attack with 5.5 and 3.5 kilometers to go, but both were marked and the gap to Paolini could not be closed. Debusschere and Vanmarcke were both distanced during the attempts to chase. Terpstra and Thomas crossed behind Paolini together, and Vandenbergh not long after those two.
Many riders crashed and abandoned the race early on. Others simply lost contact as the race was split into many echelons at one point, then was split into two groups, followed by two groups becoming one peloton with less than 100km to go. Etixx - Quick-Step still had Matteo Trentin, Zdenek Stybar, Terpstra, Vandenbergh, and Nikolas Maes present at the moment the two groups rejoined.
"I had some bad luck I had to work through at this race," Terpstra said. "When we reached the Casselberg, and I had a flat on top. But at that moment there was 10 groups due to the wind. There were no cars behind us, so I took a wheel of someone standing there with a spare and I pursued. Then we started catching group-by-group and we worked together so we could come back to the first and we did it. Then in a key moment moment when a select group formed in the front with Vandenbergh, Thomas, and others, I hesitated a bit and I lost the momentum to be together with them. At a certain moment when the gap was almost a minute I decided to go and it is not even just a a time trial to make it to the group. It is really full gas, maximum effort, until you can catch them. Otherwise you won't make it. I was able to catch them, even though it cost me a lot. I tried my best to recover at that point. Then I had another flat tire in another key moment. But OK, even with these things in my legs already, I have to say Paolini deserved the victory today. He was already going so fast when he attacked and there was a tailwind. We would have had to do almost 65 kilometers per hour to catch him. It was really hard. He simply did the right attack in a good moment. So all I could do in the end was my best for a second place, and I have to say I am happy with my sprint. I made the best of my situation I think. I felt strong and now I know what I can do if I am there in the final. Considering everything, including the conditions which were crazy and riders blowing off the road, I am happy I stayed on the bike and was there to decide this hectic race. We also showed again that we have a strong team who can be there in the actions. The first step after this race is to recover, then fine tune the condition before De Ronde. My condition is there and we will see what I can do going forward."
Mark Cavendish crashed twice, the second time in a big crash involving teammates Lukasz Wisniowski and Martin Velits. Velits and Wisniowski withdrew from the race, with a confirmed fractured right collarbone for Velits. Wisniowski fell hard on his right knee and the pain was too much to continue. More information will be available about those two riders in the next days.
Cavendish was able to chase back and made it with a front echelon when the race was split into small groups in brutal crosswinds. But someone made contact with the front wheel of Cavendish, damaging it and causing him to stop with a mechanical. At that moment, between two crashes and already using energy to chase back two times, it was too late to return to the group and he also withdrew from the race.