“La Conti” Groupama-FDJ was back in Flanders on Sunday for the U23 edition of Gent-Wevelgem. After three ascents of the Kemmelberg, a lone man took the win in front of a reduced peloton in which Lewis Bower took ninth place; his best result since his return to Europe. The French squad is now heading to the Tour de Bretagne.

Three big loops around Ypres made up the 2024 edition of Gent-Wevelgem U23 on Sunday. The first one (60 km) did not feature any proper difficulty, the second one (48 km) included the traditional ascent of the Kemmelberg preceded by the Monteberg, while the third one (76 km) repeated this same sequence but also added a third and harder ascent of the Kemmelberg, via the Ossuaire side, with about twenty kilometres to go. All this was supposed to make the selection. “The wind was quite strong, and we expected a lively race,” also explained Jérôme Gannat. “The pace was quite high all day, but there were no echelons, nor really any breakaways. There was just a good, regular tempo. The race was quite straightforward, without big moves. The big teams often controlled. After the Kemmelberg, there was an exposed portion. This created splits, but it often came back together after with the headwind.” Shortly before the halfway point, “La Conti” however lost its leader due to a racing incident. “There was a bit of tension for positioning, and two big crashes followed one another,” explained Jérôme. “Noah was caught in one of them. He took a bit of time to get going again then was forced to withdraw. This obviously changed our plans a little.”

“It’s encouraging for the coming races”, Jérôme Gannat

Starting the last loop, the peloton was still very big. The Monteberg-Kemmelberg sequence with fifty kilometres to go allowed a first selection, but everything was still to be decided before the day’s last climb. Lars Vanden Heede and Huub Artz anticipated the fight battle and could approach the Ossuaire slope (700m at 11%) with a forty-five-second lead over the main peloton. The latter was reduced to around forty units, including Ronan Augé, Lewis Bower and Ben Askey, but Artz went alone and continued to gain time. A minute after the Dutchman, the pack could only fight for second place. “He was strong, because they were pulling in the back and they never reduced the gap”, confessed Jérôme. As Noah Hobbs wasn’t there, Lewis Bower got involved in the sprint and the New Zealander took a decent ninth place. “Ben tried to move him back up, but they lost each other,” added Jérôme. “It was difficult because the middle of the road was made of cobblestones, and the sides were made of macadam. Positioning in the last kilometre was important, and ours was not enough. A top-10 is still good, even if we had higher goals with Noah who finished fourth last year. On the other hand, it’s good for Lewis, it’s his first top result of the year. It’s encouraging for the coming races and in particular for the Tour de Bretagne where there will be this kind of sprints, with reduced pelotons.”

From Thursday April 25 to Wednesday May 1, “La Conti” will mostly aim for a stage win on Breton soil.

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