34 year old Philippe Gilbert claimed his first Tour of Flanders- his first win in a Monument since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2011
A victory acquired with great panache
We knew that the 101st Tour of Flanders was going to be open race where everybody would have a fair chance, but we didn’t expect such a fantastic finish. Every year, the Tour of Flanders has its surprises, which definitely makes the Ronde one of the most beautiful classics. As he took the win on Sunday afternoon in Oudenaarde, Philippe Gilbert ended a streak of 23 Monuments without any Belgian victory, the last one being Tom Boonen winning Paris-Roubaix in 2012. Tornado Tom won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix back to back- a performance that Gilbert could follow in Roubaix next Sunday
The fans were excited about the comeback of the Muur van Geraardsbergen on the route of the Ronde, and even if it was placed 95km from the finish line, the mythic difficulty created excitement. By accelerating the pace, Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert created a gap at the top of the Muur. Only around 15 riders followed the two Belgians, but neither Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet or Oliver Naesen were with them. While in the peloton the duo of Sagan and Van Avermaet were coming back on the Boonen-Gilbert group and about to join them, Gilbert escaped on the Old Kwaremont, at 55km of the goal, leaving behind his teammate Boonen, the other favourite. The Quick-Step riders were then in a perfect strategic configuration, without counting on the mechanical issues that Boonen suffered from in the first meters of the Taaienberg. For his last Tour of Flanders, Tommeke was probably dreaming of another race, but he will use his frustration as extra motivation for Paris-Roubaix next week, which will be his last professional race.
Van Avermaet goes close once again
Behind an irresistible Gilbert, Sagan and Van Avermaet led the counter attack with Naesen in their wheel. At 36km before the finish while the chasing pack were reducing the gap with Gilbert, Sagan, riding too close from the barriers, went down. Van Avernaet and Naesen, riding on the Slovak’s rear wheel, could not avoid the crash. Van Avermaet was the first to jump back up on his bike, and desperately tried to catch Gilbert, with the help of the surprising Dutchman Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac). Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) stayed with Van Avermaet and Van Baarle which allowed his teammate to inch closer to the win. Exhausted, Gilbert held on and took away his third win of the year and sent a strong message to his opponents, showing that he will ride for the win in Roubaix next week. The National Champion Gilbert concluded his fantastic solo breakaway by getting off of his bike and lifting it up in the air while crossing the line. The last time a Belgian won the Ronde with the National Champion jersey was in 2008 when Stijn Devolder took the win. Van Avermaet sprinted to another second place and Terpstra completed the podium.
Greg Van Avermaet will seek his first win on a Monument on the French cobbles, a victory that he has awaited for several years now. Sep Vanmarcke , who crashed around 50km to the finish line, Boonen and Sagan look forward to a better performance in the Hell of the North. These riders experienced the hazards of the race, which remind us that there are external factors in cycling that can help to promote a win, or contrarily, assist a loss. They will without a doubt come back motivated and race for the win next Sunday in Roubaix’s velodrome. And who knows, maybe the astonishing performance of Gilbert has left the riders with something to think about.