Oscar Freire (Rabobank) became the first Spaniard to ever win Ghent-Wevelgem, with a perfectly timed sprint after a thrilling edition of the mid-week classic.

Freire emerged from a hectic finale and switched violently to his right when he started his sprint a long way out. His switch caused chaos behind him but he powered to the finish and beat Aurelien Clerc (Bouygues Telecom) and Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step) at the line.

Roger Hammond and Mark Cavendish (High Road) were both near the front of the bunch in the final kilometre but Freire’s switch across the road affected their sprint.

Hammond was squeezed close to the barriers and had to brake hard to avoid crashing. He accelerated again but eventually finished tenth. It was his fourth top ten place in this race but that offered little consolation after going so close to victory yet again.

Cavendish finished 17th on the other side of the road but was frustrated and disappointed after fighting to get back up to the front group following the second climb of the Kemmelberg.

“I?m really disappointed, because it was a great opportunity,” Cavendish told Cycling Weekly immediately after the finish.

“It was a really dangerous finale and unfortunately I didn’t really have a chance to sprint. I didn’t even go over 350 watts.”

Freire himself pointed out to Cycling Weekly afterwards that “it was a perfect day for the sprinters to do well in.”

“The weather was good, there was a strong headwind in the finale, the descent of the Kemmel wasn’t as dangerous in previous years. I was expecting a bunch sprint from the first kilometre.”

The triple World Champion added that he had actually felt fairly relaxed in the last three kilometres “because we were going so fast in the headwind I knew there couldn’t be any more breakaways.”

Early in the day one long-distance move had gone clear with Italian Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval) and was only reeled in 25 kilometres from the line. But Capelli’s move was bound to collapse after so long off the front. Really it was a five-man attack with E3 Harelbeke winner Kurt-Asle Arvesen and his CSC team-mate Stuart O’Grady (on track for a repeat Roubaix win?) which looked far more dangerous.

But neither worked out, even though O’Grady’s move lasted well into the streets of Wevelgem. Finally it was a 70-strong bunch (exceptionally large for the mid-week Classic) which roared towards the finish.

Freire praised his team-mates for controlling the race so well “particularly in the finale. There were moves going clear, but we always had them sorted out.”

The only error Rabobank apparently made was made by Freire himself. “I went too early, 300 metres to go is a heck of a long way out.”

“I was convinced that i would end up getting overtaken in the finale. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.”


GHENT-WEVELGEM 2008 RESULTS

1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 209km in 4hr 53 min 06sec
2 Aurelien Clerc (Fra) Bouygues
3 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
5 Kenny De Haes (Bel) Topsport
6 Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua Sapone
7 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne
8 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) CSC
9 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
10 Roger Hammond (GB) High Road
17 Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road
44 Jeremy Hunt (GB) Credit Agricole all same time
161 Ian Stannard (GB) Landboukrediet at 4min 58sec

RELATED LINKS
Ghent-Wevelgem 2008 in pictures
Race report: Freire wins Ghent-Wevelgem
Cavendish disappointed after chaotic Ghent-Wevelgem finale
Will ‘safer’ descent cut down crashes?
Ghent-Wevelgem preview
Cycling Weekly Classic from the archive: How Barry Hoban won 1974 Ghent-Wevelgem

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