Eisel proved fastest of a six-man break that included Daniel Oss (Liquigas), George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team), Sep Vanmarke (Topsport-Vlaanderen) and Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates Philippe Gilbert and Jurgen Roelandts.
Vanmarke attacked the group in the final 3km but got nowhere. Then, in the final 300 meters, Hincapie took a shot. But former teammate Eisel stayed glued to his wheel, then shot past for the victory, taking Vanmarke and Gilbert with him; Hincapie had to settle for fourth on the day.
“This is my most celebrated victory,” said the 29-year-old Eisel. “And especially more so as before this edition it was a race that I really didn’t like at all.”
Eisel said he had not been expecting big things from Ghent-Wevelgem, but added that “everything fell into place for me to win even before the race happened.”
“We took the right decision to check out the new Ghent-Wevelgem climbs beforehand and not participate in the E-3 Harelbeke Classic immediately before Ghent-Wevelgem,” said Eisel.
“When we took part in this race we were rested and in good shape, knew what was coming up and we were ready to go. I felt in good form here, but my teammates really helped put me in a great position for the win. Matt Goss and Hayden Roulston are two names I’d like to mention but everybody did a great job.”
HTC-Columbia sports director Tristan Hoffman said Eisel won by two bike lengths.
“The other guys tried everything they could to get rid of Bernie because they knew he would be the fastest if it came down to a sprint, but it just wasn’t possible,” Hoffman said. “HTC-Columbia had been on the front all day. Bernie and Marcel [Sieberg] and Matt [Goss] were all working away and keeping everything under control. There were some new climbs before the Kemmel, which we’d checked out and ridden over on the Friday before the race, and that was where it all split apart. There were groups everywhere but Bernie stayed calm, got into the right break and then played it perfectly at the finish.”
American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) also had a strong ride, crossing ninth at 40 seconds back.
Milan-San Remo winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) had both initially made the decisive split, as did Aljaksandr Kuschynski (Liguigas) Maxim Iglinsky (Astana).
But Breschel flatted with 17km to go, and then Freire, Kuschynski and Iglinsky were dropped in the closing kilometers. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen and Saxo’s Fabian Cancellara, meanwhile, called it quits early on.
They’ll have another chance to shine down the road. But so will Eisel, who will be looking for more big results this spring.
“Winning stages in the Tour of Switzerland was good, and leading there was something very special, too. But this is Ghent-Wevelgem. It’s a major classic and it’s always been one of my biggest dreams to take a race like this. And after this, who knows what could happen in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix?”
1. Bernhard Eisel (Aut), HTC-Columbia, 5:16:21
2. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, same time
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Omega Pharma-Lotto, s.t.
4. George Hincapie (USA), BMC Racing Team, s.t.
5. Daniel Oss (Ita), Liquigas Doimo, s.t.
6. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel), Omega Pharma-Lotto, s.t.
7. Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz), Astana, s.t.
8. Matti Breschel (Den), Team Saxo Bank, at 0:30
9. Tyler Farrar (USA), Garmin-Transitions, at 0:40
10. Luca Paolini (Ita), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, s.t.