With a big turn of speed in the closing meters of Sunday’s 243 km Gent-Wevelgem, Team KATUSHA’s Viacheslav Kuznetsov began his sprint against some of the biggest names in cycling. The Russian cyclist managed to hold on for a fine third place on the day, marking a first World Tour podium for the 26-year old ‘Slava’ Kuznetsov.
- A month ago I was having some health problems and I never expected that at this race I could be top three. For me it was a big surprise that I had such good legs today. This was maybe the best day in my life. I am so happy – it feels like a dream that I was in the top three. At 50 meters to the finish line I was in the front and I thought maybe I could win, but Sagan was too fast, but I did my best today. When I started my sprint, I felt I could not wait any more. I could not stay on the wheel against those guys. It was better for me to jump and have some speed and surprise of my own. It was about 180 meters to go and I knew I could sprint that distance. Peter Sagan was just stronger, - said Viacheslav Kuznetsov.
Taking his second career win in Gent-Wevelgem and first victory wearing the World Champion rainbow jersey was Peter Sagan of Tinkoff. He was followed by Sep Vanmarcke of Team LottoNL-Jumbo and Kuznetsov, all on the same time of 5:55.16.
- This is the first time Kuznetsov is in the final of a World Tour race of this level and he did so well. The last thing I told him was to stay calm and cool. He did that, and he is on the podium. This is so great for him and for the team – especially to beat Cancellara or to be up against Sagan and Vanmarcke is super in a race like Gent-Wevelgem. Then to also have two others in the top ten! – exclaimed team director Torsten Schmidt.
Kuznetsov’s unexpected journey to the finish line began 50 km from the finish, before the last two climbs of the Baneberg and the cobbled Kemmelberg. Vanmarcke, Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Sagan accelerated over the climb to eventually join Kuznetsov in the front. The quartet worked hard to stay away in the last 30 km and managed to establish an advantage that hovered around the 38-second mark despite desperate chasing from behind. In the chase group trying to disrupt the effort and not contributing were Kuznetsov teammates Jacopo Guarnieri and Michael Mørkøv. Guarnieri ended up in 8th place and Mørkøv was tenth at 12-seconds.
- Tactically, I have to thank our sports director Torsten Schmidt. He told me on the radio to attack in this section, exactly in this place. It was a small road and we both knew the peloton would be going slow here. I believed him, but I was surprised to find myself in the front alone and building a gap – 20-seconds, then 30-seconds….no one followed me. I made the gap go to 1:10. After the Kemmelberg I rode easy and when the others came to me I was ready to go with them. In the last 10 km I was ready to help them and we worked together and waited for the sprint. I knew the others did not know who I was, they did not know me at all, so they had no expectations that I could be first in the sprint, especially after using energy in my long solo attack. But, I did what I could and the result is a big surprise, - continued Kuznetsov.
- I knew the small roads here from last year when we won with Paolini. With Guarnieri, Porsev and Mørkøv we had some fast guys, if it came to a sprint, so Kuznetsov had to try in an attack. I knew a group would go away on the Kemmelberg and then it would be 25 km flat, so it worked out, - concluded Schmidt.
Unable to start today due to illness was team leader Alexander Kristoff.
- I was sorry that Alex was sick and could not start today, but we still had a race to do and even though I was not designated as one of our leaders, when Schmidt said to attack, I did that. It was good for our sprinters too, because they did not have to work in the group and in the end we were third, 8th and tenth. We earned a lot of World Tour points today. I guess it’s true that now others will know who I am, - concluded Viacheslav Kuznetsov.
Photo credit: (c) Tim De Waele