Peloton caught napping as Marlen Reusser solos to Gent-Wevelgem victory

Reusser slid off the front shortly after a major crash and, in the chaos and cold, nobody followed.

When the weather plays a role in Belgian Classics it almost always ends with a race to remember, and Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem was no exception, although perhaps not in the best way.

The freezing rain that fell on the cobbled roads of West Flanders turned out to be exactly what time trial specialist Marlen Reusser needed to win her first WorldTour race. The SD Worx rider rode away from the peloton with almost 40 km to go and soloed to victory in Wevelgem.

Behind, a chase group split over the Kemmelberg and then reformed inside the flamme rouge. Young American talent Megan Jastrab of Team DSM made the front split and then held on once the groups came back together, opening her sprint early to take second place, her best result since winning the junior world title in 2019. It’s a result that has been coming; she was 4th at Brugge de Panne this week and is clearly on flying form. She is perhaps a dark horse for Flanders next weekend, where she would be the first American winner since Coryn Labecki in 2017.

Another young rider, Maike van der Duin of Canyon-SRAM, finished thrid.

It was a strange and yet predictable race, tactically. Strange because of what the peloton allowed to happen, but predictable because once Reusser’s gap was formed, it was clear she wasn’t coming back.

Reusser’s move wasn’t an attack, it was a slow escalation of pace up the Baneberg, a short punch of a climb with a maximum gradient of 11%. The slight acceleration was more an attempt to string the group out than separate from it. It was an odd moment. The riders behind looked labored but not deep in the red.

Reusser’s non-attack attack.

“I didn’t attack,” Reusser said afterwards. “I thought, maybe we can make a selection or a small group, and there was just nobody on my wheel. And then I thought, let’s try a bit.”

It was a combination of the weather, the crashes (a result of the weather), momentary collective apathy, and the sheer strength of SD Worx that led to Reusser’s victory.

To be clear: Reusser is one of the stronger riders in the peloton and a win like this was just around the corner. It was the fight behind Reusser that made little sense. There are plenty of excuses at hand. It was freezing cold and the peloton was only just regrouping from a terrible crash. But when an attack isn’t an attack at all, and nobody follows, letting one of the world’s greatest time trialists pull out over a minute within a few kilometers, there’s plenty of poor decision-making to blame as well.

Once Reusser was clear, team dynamics came into play. Few want to work with SD Worx at the best of times and the team’s dominance and careful patrolling of the front kept chases to a minimum. Still, there was no real concerted effort to pull the move back.

A split formed on the final run up the cobbled Kemmelberg, and for a moment it looked like the smaller group, with fewer passengers, might start to claw some time back. But by then it was far too late.

“I don’t know, sometimes I don’t understand other teams,” said Reusser’s SD Worx teammate Lotte Kopecky after the race. “I mean it’s good for us, but yeah, if I was a director, I would say to my riders that the need to ride or attack immediately. But nobody was doing that, so they were giving Marlen some free minutes.”

When you give a rider of Reusser’s caliber free minutes, she doesn’t come back.

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