'Best man' Van Aert powers home in Gent-Wevelgem classic

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Belgian Van Aert beats Italian Trentin to the line

Home rider Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma won an eventful Gent-Wevelgem cycling classic in Belgium on Sunday, edging Italian pair Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin.

The powerful 26-year-old, who won the Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche classics in 2020, came second in this year's Tirreno-Adriatico and has emerged as a major force in the sport.

"This victory counts so much to me, it being my first home road race win," said Van Aert, winner of dozens of cyclo cross races in Belgium.

Nizzolo was gracious in defeat.

"I can't be too upset because well, the best man won today," he said.

The 247.5km race was hit by two teams pulling out due to positive Covid-19 tests, while a mid-race fire near the finish line also saw organisers scramble to reroute the closing kilometres.

"We were all a bit lost with the reroute but the organisers were right to reroute," Nizzolo said. "You can't say it changed the outcome."

Irish rider Sam Bennett put in a brave attempt but unexpected winds put paid to his efforts over the already tough cobble-strewn and hill-laden run through Flanders.

Van Aert had a teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck (7th) with him in a long range 20-man breakaway that gradually whittled down on a fast and tough race.

"We were able to launch early enough. Everything went perfect and nobody came past," said Van Aert, who ran out of steam at the last classic he raced, the Milan-San Remo.

"The whole day in the crosswinds, this is a massive effort but definitely worth it," said Van Aert, who raised his arms in victory over the cobbled finish line.

"This sets me up nicely and I can go into the Tour of Flanders next week with lots of confidence."

A fire at an industrial site along the route almost stopped the race but organisers were quick to reroute it with the riders just 80km away.

Meanwhile German team Bora were angry after becoming the second team to miss the big race due to the coronavirus when 17 people in their team were designated as "high risk contact" and placed under a seven-day quarantine.

Gent-Wevelgem officials said it was "not up to an organiser like ourselves to judge whether the quarantine is fair or not".

Trek-Segafredo chose to withdraw under similar circumstances with one rider testing positive.