The third Flanders Classic of the week did not go so well for the Groupama-FDJ team on Sunday. In the 2023 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem, made extremely difficult due to the weather conditions, Stefan Küng and his teammates were unable to fight for the top positions. After an issue at the bottom of the Kemmelberg’s second ascent, the Swiss rider couldn’t join in the final battle. Christophe Laporte eventually won the race ahead of his teammate Wout Van Aert.

With continuous rain and temperatures below ten degrees, one could expect a grueling, attrition race on Sunday, over the 260 kilometres of the 85th Ghent-Wevelgem. In this next round of the “Spring campaign”, Stefan Küng was joined by Arnaud Démare at the start in Ypres, but the Groupama-FDJ team also wanted to take a step ahead on this particular day. Shortly after the start, at 11 a.m., Lewis Askey therefore took part in the fight for the breakaway. “With this weather, being in front was not a bad idea”, explained Frédéric Guesdon. “Unfortunately, Lewis first found himself in a group of seven riders who had to fight for a very long time to make a gap. I think they wasted a lot of energy at this point. Still, it was a good plan to have a guy in front, especially since there were fourteen men in the lead”. With riders like Jenthe Biermans (Arkéa-Samsic), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Mike Teunissen (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroën) or Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, the twenty-one-year-old Englishman enjoyed a maximum lead of four minutes. From mid-race, however, this gap began to reduce while crashes multiplied within the peloton. Caught in one of them, Jake Stewart was able to get back a few minutes later, as the riders approached the first “hills” of the day.

“It was our bad day”, Frédéric Guesdon

The fight intensified at the front of the peloton and many riders were eliminated quite early on. Lewis Askey completed the first ascent of the Kemmelberg, 83 kilometres from the line, a minute ahead of the bunch. In the first positions of the latter at the top, Jake Stewart narrowly missed a chasing group of eight riders. “We had almost everyone after the first time on the Kemmel, only Arnaud was missing”, specified Frédéric. “It was pretty good. We missed the move that went, but we managed to reorganize ahead of the second ascent”. While Lewis Askey was joined by the chasing group, his teammates started to chase on the “plugstreets” to close a minute gap. Everything eventually came back together with fifty-five kilometres to go, just three kilometres from the second climb of the Kemmelberg. Stefan Küng was perfectly positioned at the foot, in the wheel of Wout Van Aert and Christophe Laporte, but the Swiss man experienced a decisive hitch. “He had frozen fingers and could not change gears when he arrived in the Kemmel”, explained Frédéric. “This is the wrong place for this type of issue because you quickly find yourself behind if you can’t spin the legs. It’s a shame because he was well positioned but it happens, and we can’t control everything. He did change gloves, covered himself well, but it did not prove enough. Fabian hung on, but the others were distanced after working to position Stefan”.

More than fifty kilometres from the finish, the Jumbo-Visma duo above broke away and very quickly took a large lead. As for Fabian Lienhard, he was unfortunately dropped from the chasing group in one of the last climbs of the route. “He got a bit blocked by Caleb Ewan, who left a split in the group”, added Frédéric. “They never came back afterwards. They almost bridged across twenty kilometres from the finish, but then the first chasing group accelerated again. It’s a shame to be eliminated this way”. The Swiss man eventually reached the line in thirty-third position, almost four minutes behind winner Christophe Laporte. “It’s a disappointing result”, concluded Frédéric. “We were hoping for a lot better, but we know it can happen. It was our bad day for the Classics, and we’ll refocus for the upcoming races. We shouldn’t pay too much attention to it. We know that we performed well on Friday, and it’s not always easy to do well in both races, especially with the difficult weather conditions. We were up there for a while, we came short in the end, but there is no reason to panic”. Two rest days are now on the program before the next battle on Dwars door Vlaanderen, on Wednesday.

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