Peter Sagan made a solo breakaway with 4km to go to win the UCI WorldTour Ghent-Wevelgem classic on Sunday and extend his lead in the WorldTour standings.
The Slovakian was always going to be the hot favorite if there was a sprint to the finish, but his surprise move in leaving 10 other riders standing gave him a 28-second advantage at the line.
After finishing second in his past two WorldTour races, the Milan-San Remo and the E3 Harelbeke, the leader of the Liquigas Cannondale Pro Cycling team has his first big victory of the season.
Borut Bozic of Slovenia won the sprint in the chasing group for second place ahead of Belgian rider Greg van Avermaet.
The 237km race had been shortened to 183km on the eve of the classic because of snow and frost on parts of the roads. It was the second time in as many weeks that snow had sabotaged a race, with the Milan-San Remo also being shortened.
The 23-year-old Sagan won in a time of 4 hours, 29.10 minutes, and did so with panache by taking everyone by surprise. Rivals have been itching to beat him in a sprint and he lost at the line to Gerald Ciolek in the Milan-San Remo.
It would not happen twice.
“This time I didn’t want to wait, because they were all watching. I had to find another solution,” Sagan said.
Such was the power of his breakaway that he still had time for some showboating at the end, lifting his front wheel off the ground as he crossed the line like an acrobat.
The 80 points won on Sunday boosted his total to 232. Fabian Cancellara, who won the E3 Harelbeke on Friday, remained stuck on 151.
The Swiss rider pulled out shortly after halfway through the classic, preferring to save himself for next Sunday’s Ronde of Flanders, one of the biggest races of the season and the next WorldTour event.
Soon joining Cancellara was Tom Boonen, the winner of the last two editions of the Ghent-Wevelgem, who crashed hard on the curb of a road. but seemingly was uninjured.
It left the road open for Sagan. Across the chillingly windswept fields of Flanders in northern Belgium, the peloton was cut up into groups, with Sagan part of a dozen-strong peloton that built a lead of 1:34 with 35km to go.