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64th Gent-Wevelgem - 1.HC
Belgium, April 10, 2002
By Jeff Jones
It's been nine years since Mario Cipollini last won Gent-Wevelgem in 1993, but he showed today that he has lost none of his power and finesse, as he took his third victory in this event in an utterly convincing fashion. Cipollini is a good bet in any kind of sprint, but today he was matched against just four other riders, beating home Americans Fred Rodriguez (Domo) and George Hincapie (USPS) in a straightforward sprint.
There were no zebra-striped teammates to lead him out, no-one to nurse him over the climbs. Today the win belonged solely to him, and how. "I wanted to do something special and show that I can do more than just sprinting. I am no superman, but after my win in Sanremo, I knew there was still more."
After making the first selection of 21 riders, which included Hincapie, Museeuw, Zabel, McEwen, Rodriguez and Hunter, Cipollini bided his time. He made it twice over the Kemmelberg as the lead group splintered, with Hendrik Van Dijck (Collstrop), Fred Rodriguez (Domo), George Hincapie (USPS) and Martin Hvastija (Alessio) going off the front over the climb. Cipollini waited until after the descent, before powering across the 10 second gap to the leading four. It was very impressive riding from the Lion King, who had clearly decided to win today.
Hincapie's teammate Tom Boonen commented on the move to Belgian TV afterwards: "The counter-attack by Cipollini was a big surprise. George was certainly the strongest on the Kemmel, with even Museeuw having to move over. But Cipollini went from the last position to ride across to the front group. From that moment I knew that they would stay away."
Behind him, Hunter and others tried and failed to get across, the strong headwind making life very difficult. The gap went from 10 seconds to 50 as the Domo boys stopped chasing behind, and it became a race of five men. Cipollini was trading turns with all the others, and they kept their advantage over the last 30 km into Wevelgem.
The attacks started with around 8 kilometres to go, with all riders - save for Cipollini - trying to escape. No dice, as there was always someone to close the gap, and Cipollini kept himself out of trouble. The slowest sprinters in the group, Hvastija and Van Dijk, led the way with 1 km to go, with Van Dijk deciding to go for a long sprint.
"I thought I could start early and then when someone came over me, I could get on their wheel," said Van Dijk. "It was a pity that Cipollini closed it up after the Kemmelberg. It would have been a more open race then."
Van Dijk faded to fourth as Cipollini had no problem in coming off his wheel to win by over a bike length from Rodriguez and Hincapie. Re Leone strikes again!
Rodriguez was good today, but had no answer to Cipollini's sprint. "I was too nervous and began a bit too quickly," he said. "Unfortunately that was a missed chance that I had to beat Cipollini. He was also tired after the race. What wasn't possible in Milan-San Remo could have happened now. But there will be more chances."
As for Hincapie, he too had no answer. "I was criticised after the Tour of Flanders for not attacking. This time, I went several times, and at the right moment. But with Cipollini in the group, I couldn't do anything about it. He was too strong."
With this win, Cipollini has once again answered any critics. It's a pity he won't ride on Sunday but he has set his objectives differently this year. He said in the post race interview that his targets were Milan-San Remo and the World's, and that he would be riding the Vuelta (as well as the Giro). This suggests that the Tour de France is not on his program, even if the organisers do give his team an invitation.
Photo's by AFP
1 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 4.39.00 (44.731 km/h) 2 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Domo-Farm Frites 3 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service 4 Hendrik Van Dyck (Bel) Palmans-Collstrop 5 Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio 0.10 6 Robert Hunter (RSA) Mapei-Quick Step 1.29 7 Tom Boonen (Bel) US Postal Service 8 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Telekom 9 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) CSC-Tiscali 10 Johan Museeuw (Bel) Domo-Farm Frites 11 Servais Knaven (Ned) Domo-Farm Frites 12 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Lotto-Adecco 13 Hans De Clercq (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 14 Franck Pencole (Fra) La Francaise des Jeux 15 Paul Van Hyfte (Bel) CSC-Tiscali 16 Andreas Klier (Ger) Team Telekom 1.43 17 Marco Serpellini (Ita) Lampre-Daikin 2.18 18 Matthias Buxhofer (Aut) Phonak Hearing Systems 2.21 19 Remco Van Der Ven (Ned) Bankgiroloterij-Batavus 4.19 20 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Team Telekom 21 Gerben Löwik (Ned) Bankgiroloterij-Batavus 22 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Mapei-Quick Step 23 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) La Francaise des Jeux 24 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Phonak Hearing Systems 25 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Adecco 26 Dmitri Konyshev (Rus) Fassa Bortolo 27 Nico Mattan (Bel) Cofidis 28 Pedro Horrillo Muñoz (Spa) Mapei-Quick Step 29 Christophe Mengin (Fra) La Francaise des Jeux 30 Wim Vansevenant (Bel) Palmans-Collstrop 31 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bonjour 32 Corey Sweet (Aus) Bankgiroloterij-Batavus 33 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Palmans-Collstrop 34 Charles Guilbert (Fra) Bonjour 35 Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 36 Mario Manzoni (Ita) Index-Alexia 37 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Domo-Farm Frites 38 Christian Vandevelde (USA) US Postal Service 39 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Domo-Farm Frites 40 Enrico Cassani (Ita) Domo-Farm Frites 41 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank 42 Jan Boven (Ned) Rabobank 43 Marc Wauters (Bel) Rabobank 44 Daniele Nardello (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 45 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Alessio 46 Pavel Padrnos (Cze) US Postal Service 47 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) Team Telekom 48 Mario Scirea (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 49 Giovanni Lombardi (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 50 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 51 Nicola Loda (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 52 Thierry Marichal (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 10.52 53 David Derepas (Fra) Phonak Hearing Systems 54 Diego Ferrari (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi 55 Mauro Radaelli (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi 13.56 56 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bonjour 57 Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Bonjour 58 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi 59 Gorik Gardeyn (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 60 Roberto Petito (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 61 Tom Flammang (Lux) Cofidis 62 Sven Nys (Bel) Rabobank 63 Thomas Brunn Eriksen (Den) CSC-Tiscali 64 David Clinger (USA) US Postal Service 65 Frank Höj (Den) Team Coast 66 Kai Hundertmarck (Ger) Team Telekom 67 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal Service 68 Robert Bartko (Ger) Team Telekom 69 Bram Schmitz (Ned) Bankgiroloterij-Batavus 70 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 71 Coen H. Boerman (Ned) Rabobank 72 Bart Voskamp (Ned) Bankgiroloterij-Batavus 73 Mauro Zinetti (Ita) Index-Alexia 74 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Rabobank 75 Dario Pieri (Ita) Alessio 76 Dario Andriotto (Ita) Index-Alexia 77 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi 78 Jo Planckaert (Bel) Cofidis 79 Daniele Galli (Ita) Index-Alexia 80 Davide Casarotto (Ita) Alessio 81 Alberto Vinale (Ita) Alessio 82 Matthew White (Aus) US Postal Service 83 Marc Streel (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 84 Claude Lamour (Fra) Cofidis 85 Franck Perque (Fra) La Francaise des Jeux