By Graham Healy
By 1988, one of the few classics which Sean Kelly hadn’t won was Ghent-Wevelgem. The main reason was that the race had always clashed with the Tour of the Basque Country which was a regular race on Kelly’s race schedule due to sponsor commitments.
However, when the 1988 professional calendar was being drawn up, the organisers of Ghent-Wevelgem asked for a new date so as to avoid a clash with the Basque race.
The pre-race favourite was the Italian Guido Bontempi, twice a winner of the race. However, he was ruled out of contention early on in the race after crashing and had to drop out together with fellow Italian and teammate Bruno Leali. Bontempi was hospitalized with a hip injury.
That year, the race was an incredible 275 kilometres long, and it was on the second ascent of the Kemmelberg when the winning break went clear. Kelly got away with the American Ron Kiefel (7-Eleven), Italian Gianni Bugno (Chateau D’Ax), and Belgians Claude Criquielion (Hitachi) and Ludo Peeters (Superconfex).
A chase was led from behind by amongst others Adri van der Poel, Dag-Erik Pedersen, Steve Bauer and Rudy Dhaenens. However, the leaders worked well together and they also had a tailwind which helped their cause. Coming into the final kilometres, they started to attack each other. Bugno got away but was chased down by Peeters
After 7 hours and 10 minutes of racing, the five were still together coming into the finishing straight. Peeters led out the sprint with Kelly in fourth wheel. Kiefel moved into the lead and it looked for a moment like he might be able to take the win.
In the final fifty metres, Kelly moved past to take the win just ahead of Bugno with Kiefel in third.
“This race was a personal ambition of mine,” Kelly told reporters after the race. It was the one and only time that he would win Ghent-Wevelgem.
After no classic wins in 1987 and a disappointing campaign that season, it was a monkey off his back, and he showed that he was still well able to win the top one day races.
Here’s a short video showing the closing kilometres of the race.