Wout van Aert is a generous leader. The Belgian rider of the Jumbo-Visma team did not dispute the victory with his teammate Christophe Laporte at the finish of the 85e edition of Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday 26 March. The two men crossed the line hand in hand, but the Belgian offered the Varois his first victory in the classics – the prestigious one-day races.
Narrowly beaten in the sprint last year by the Eritrean Biniam Girmay, Laporte, winner of a stage during the last Tour de France, signed between Ypres and Wevelgem his greatest success in a one-day race. At 30, the man who joined the Jumbo-Visma team a little over a year ago becomes the fourth Frenchman to put his name on the list of winners of this Flemish classic – after Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Philippe Gaumont.
In the rain and with wind, the 2023 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem was played out in the ascent of Mount Kemmel 55 kilometers from the finish line. This is where Wout van Aert chose to place a decisive acceleration, towing Laporte in his wake. The Belgian demonstrated his great form one week before the Tour of Flanders.
Two days earlier, the three-time cyclo-cross world champion had already won the E3 Classic ahead of Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Enough to claim victory in the Tour of Flanders, the second “monument” of the season after Milan-San Remo, Sunday April 2. Unlike the E3 Classic, neither Van der Poel nor Tadej Pogacar were in the running to compete with their great rival on Sunday.
If Christophe Laporte won, it was Van Aert who seemed the most dashing when he set the pace for the duo on the third climb of the Kemmelberg. The two men then continued their effort, before a final straight line of 20 kilometers leading to Wevelgem. Rising to more than two minutes, the gap with the pursuers left little doubt about the outcome of the race.
“Today, I owe him the victory”
On the other hand, the fight was intense to complete the podium. In a four-man sprint, Dane Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was overtaken by two Belgians, Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech), third, and Frederik Frison (Lotto Dstny). The Slovenian Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) could not join the fight after a nasty fall 5 kilometers from the finish in a roundabout. Frenchman Alexis Renard (Cofidis) finished in seventh place.
Earlier in the afternoon, fourteen riders had detached themselves to the front on the Belgian roads, including a contingent of locals (Greg Van Avermaet, Jelle Wallays, Jenthe Biermans, Milan Fretin, Aaron Van Poucke, Luca Van Boven and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck). A counter-attack began, but the peloton found themselves together again 55 kilometers from the finish after the efforts of the riders of Groupama-FDJ and Soudal-Quick Step to close the gap.
Anthony Turgis then attacked on the Monteberg coast. After catching up with the Frenchman on the cobblestones of the second ascent of the Kemmelberg, Wout van Aert continued his effort, with Christophe Laporte in the wheel. The duo broke away, benefiting from the wait-and-see attitude of the chasing group.
The slippery road caused falls which led to the abandonment of several big names such as the Italian Filippo Ganna, double world champion on the road (2020 and 2021), the Pole Michal Kwiatkowski or the Irishman Sam Bennett. Becoming the first African rider to win a Flemish classic by raising his arms in Wevelgem in 2022, Biniam Girmay also fell. Although he got back on his bike, the Intermarché-Wanty Gobert team sprinter-roller did not get involved in the final battle this time.
On arrival, Christophe Laporte did not fail to thank Wout van Aert, recognizing his superiority. “Wout asked me if I wanted to win. I think he knew the answer… It’s really amazing. He was really stronger than me today, I owe him the victory.said the Frenchman, before entrusting to carry out “a boy’s dream” by adding a Flandrian classic to his list.