Philippe Gilbert rolled back the years on Sunday when the Belgian national road race champion claimed a memorable victory at Tour of Flanders.
Gilbert, 34, won his last monument of cycling six years ago when the then Omega Pharma-Lotto rider completed a historic Ardennes classics hat-trick at Liège-Bastogne-Liège following victories at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne. Despite subsequent stage wins at all three grand tours — Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia — as well as the 2012 world road race title, many had thought Gilbert's best days were behind him. However, Gilbert appears to have discovered a new lease of life following his move to Quick-Step Floors from BMC Racing where he spent the last five seasons following a stage and overall win at last week's Three Days of De Panne.
After the customary breakaway group had been reeled in, a select group of riders formed at the head of the field before Gilbert attacked off the front on the Oude Kwaremont climb, around 55km from the finishing line in Oudenaarde, and managed to hold on despite a late charge from former team-mate Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac) and Niki Terpstra who, as a fellow Quick-Step Floors rider contributed little, if anything, to the chase.
Pre-race favourite Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) saw his own chances evaporate after the world champion appeared to clip the feet of a roadside barrier while riding in the gutter in an attempt to avoid the cobbles on the Oude Kwaremont. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Van Avermaet, who were sitting on Sagan's wheel, also crashed though it was only the Olympic road race champion who managed to remount and continue in his pursuit of Gilbert.
After Gilbert had dismounted on the line where he held his bike aloft in a victory salute following six hours 23 minutes 45 minutes in the saddle, Van Avermaet followed in second spot 29 secs later with team-mate Terpstra of Holland completing the podium of the 259.5-kilometre long race that will be long remembered in both Belgium and beyond.
Tour of Flanders preview
What is this race and why should I care about it?
Set up in 1913 by journalist Karel Van Wijnendaele, the Tour of Flanders, or De Ronde van Vlaanderen, is the biggest day in the Belgian sporting calendar and has been described as being like Royal Ascot, the Boat Race, Wimbledon and the FA Cup final — all rolled into one.
The race itself, the second of the five monuments of cycling, originally departed from Ghent, the spiritual home of Belgian cycling, though over the years its route has changed. This year's race starts in Antwerp and concludes in Oudenaarde. Despite the various changes to the route over the years, one crucial characteristic of the Ronde remains: the hellingen, or hills which are often cobbled.
The 101st edition of the race features 18 recognised climbs, including three ascents of Oude Kwaremont — the penultimate climb of the day — and twice up the final climb of the race, the Paterberg which tops out at an eye-watering 18.2 per cent in gradient, almost one-in-five in old money.
A week after Flandrian riders Yves Lampaert and Greg Van Avermaet won at Dwars door Vlaanderens and E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem respectively, cycling fanatics across Flanders are desperate to see the five-year wait for a Belgian to prevail following the successes of Fabian Cancellara, Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan at ‘their’ race.
The race, of course, will be the final outing at the Tour of Flanders for three-time winner Tom Boonen who will retire the following week after Paris-Roubaix.
When is the Tour of Flanders?
The 13th WorldTour race of the season – and its fifth one-day race following the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo – gets under way at 10.30am (9.30am GMT) on Sunday April 2, 2017.
How long is this year's race?
The 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders is 259.5 kilometres long.
How can I watch this year's race?
Those lucky enough to have subscriptions to Eurosport can follow all the action on British Eurosport 1 from 9.15am (BST) through to 11am at which point the broadcast stops for a break before continuing at 12.30 through to the race's conclusion at around 4pm.
What's in it for the winner?
The winner will trouser a cheque – or possibly a bank transfer to the same value – to the value of €20,000 while the second-placed rider gets €10,000 and the rider on the third step of the podium €5,000. Each rider in the top 20 will take home something, even if it's only €500. Here's the full breakdown of their innings . . .
With Tour of Flanders being a WorldTour race, there will also be points on offer that go towards a riders' overall rankings . . .
What teams will ride at Tour of Flanders?
As is the case with all WorldTour races, each of the 18 teams that make up the top-flight of professional cycling – Ag2r-La Mondiale, Astana, Bahrain-Merida, BMC Racing, Bora-Hansgrohe, Cannondale-Drapac, Dimension Data, FDJ, Katusha-Alpecin, Lotto–Soudal, Lotto NL-Jumbo, Movistar, Orica-Scott, Quick-Step Floors, Team Sky, Trek-Segafredo, Sunweb and UAE Team Emirates – receive an invite.
In addition to all WorldTour teams, race organisers have offered seven wildcard places to Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij, Veranda’s Willems-Crelan, Cofidis, Solutions Crédits, Direct Énergie and Wilier Triestina.
Who are the bookmakers' favourites for the race?
Peter Sagan: 7/4
Greg van Avermaet: 11/4
Phillippe Gilbert: 15/2
Alexander Kristoff: 12/1
John Degenkolb: 16/1
Niki Terpstra: 20/1
Zdenek Stybar: 25/1
Sep Vanmarcke: 25/1
Tom Boonen: 28/1
Luke Rowe: 40/1
Odds (as of March 29, 2017) from www.bet365.com
What does the startlist look like?
Ag2r-La Mondiale: Gediminas Bagdonas (Lit), Rudy Barbier (Fra), Nico Denz (Ger, neo-pro), Julien Duval (Fra), Alexis Gougeard (Fra), Hugo Houle (Can), Oliver Naesen (Bel), Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel).
Astana: Matti Breschel (Den), Laurens de Vreese (Bel), Oscar Gatto (Ita), Andriy Grivko (Ukr), Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz), Truls Engen Korsæth (Den), Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz), Michael Valgren (Den).
Bahrain-Merida: Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita), Borut Bozic (Slo), Sonny Colbrelli (Ita), Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa, neo-pro), Jon Ander Insausti (Spa), Chun Kai Feng (Twn), David Per (Slo, neo-pro), Luka Pibernik (Slo).
BMC Racing: Silvan Dillier (Swi), Jempy Drucker (Lux), Martin Elmiger (Swi), Stefan Küng (Swi), Daniel Oss (Ita), Manuel Quinziato (Ita), Greg van Avermaet (Bel), Francisco Ventoso (Spa).
Bora-Hansgrohe: Maciej Bodnar (Pol), Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Michael Kolar (Svk), Christoph Pfingsten (Ger), Juraj Sagan (Svk), Peter Sagan (Svk), Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat), Andreas Schillinger (Ger).
Cannondale-Drapac: Alberto Bettiol (Ita), Sebastian Langeveld (Hol), Ryan Mullen (Ire), Taylor Phinney (US), Tom Scully (NZ), Tom van Asbroeck (Bel), Dylan van Baarle (Hol), Sep Vanmarcke (Bel).
Dimension Data: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Nicolas Dougall (SA), Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Tyler Farrar (US), Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (SA), Youcef Reguigui (Alg), Jay Thomson (SA), Scott Thwaites (GB).
FDJ: Mickaël Delage (Fra), Arnaud Démare (Fra), Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita), Daniel Hoelgaard (Nor, neo-pro), Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu), Mathieu Ladagnous (Fra), Olivier Le Gac (Fra), Marc Sarreau (Fra).
Katusha-Alpecin: Sven Erik Bystrom (Nor), Marco Haller (Aut), Reto Hollenstein (Swi), Alexander Kristoff (Nor), Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus), Tony Martin (Ger), Michael Morkov (Den), Nils Politt (Ger, neo-pro).
Lotto-Soudal: Tiesj Benoot (Bel), Jens Debusschere (Bel), Tony Gallopin (Fra), André Greipel (Ger), Nikolas Maes (Bel), Jürgen Roelandts (Bel), Marcel Sieberg (Ger), Jelle Wallays (Bel).
Lotto NL-Jumbo: Lars Boom (Hol), Twan Castelijns (Hol), Amund Grondahl Jansen (Nor, neo-pro), Steven Lammertink (Hol, neo-pro), Bram Tankink (Hol), Jos van Emden (Hol), Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel), Maarten Wynants (Bel).
Movistar: Andrey Amador (Crc), Jorge Arcas (Spa, neo-pro), Nuno Bico (Por), Héctor Carretero (Spa), Alex Dowsett (GB), Imanol Erviti (Spa), Nelson Oliveira (Por), Jasha Sütterlin (Ger).
Orica-Scott: Sam Bewley (NZ), Mitchell Docker (Aus), Luke Durbridge (Aus), Alex Edmondson (Aus), Mathew Hayman (Aus), Jens Keukeleire (Bel), Luka Mezgec (Slo), Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den).
Quick-Step Floors: Tom Boonen (Bel), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Iljo Keisse (Bel), Yves Lampaert (Bel), Zdenek Stybar (Cze), Niki Terpstra (Hol), Matteo Trentin (Ita), Julien Vermote (Bel).
Team Sky: Jon Dibben (GB, neo-pro), Owain Doull (GB, neo-pro), Christian Knees (Ger), Gianni Moscon (Ita, neo-pro), Salvatore Puccio (Ita), Luke Rowe (GB), Ian Stannard (GB), Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol).
Trek-Segafredo: Koen de Kort (Hol), John Degenkolb (Ger), Fabio Felline (Ita), Gregory Rast (Swi), Kiel Reijnen (US), Jasper Stuyven (Bel), Edward Theuns (Bel), Boy van Poppel (Hol).
Sunweb: Soren Kragh Andersen (Den, neo-pro), Nikias Arndt (Ger), Phil Bauhaus (Ger), Roy Curvers (Hol), Bert De Backer (Bel), Ramon Sinkeldam (Hol), Mike Teunissen (Hol), Zico Waeytens (Bel).
UAE Team Emirates: Simone Consonni (Ita, neo-pro), Filippo Ganna (Ita, neo-pro), Marko Kump (Slo), Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor), Marco Marcato (Ita), Sacha Modolo (Ita), Oliviero Troia (Ita, neo-pro), Federico Zurlo (Ita, neo-pro).
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits: Loïc Chetout (Fra), Dimitri Claeys (Bel), Hugo Hofstetter (Fra), Christophe Laporte (Fra), Cyril Lemoine (Fra), Florian Sénéchal (Fra), Michael Van Staeyen (Bel), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Bel).
Direct Énergie: Ryan Anderson (Can), Romain Cardis (Fra), Sylvain Chavanel (Fra), Antoine Duchesne (Can), Bryan Coquard (Fra), Julien Morice (Fra), Adrien Petit (Fra), Alexandre Pichot (Fra).
Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij: Jesper Asselman (Hol), Berden de Vries (Hol), Pim Ligthart (Hol), Jens Mouris (Hol), Taco Van Der Hoorn (Hol), Sjoerd van Ginneken (Hol), Brian van Goethem (Hol), Pieter Weening (Hol).
Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise: Preben Van Hecke (Bel), Edward Planckaert (Bel), Jonas Rickaert (Bel), Jarl Salomein (Bel), Thomas Sprengers (Bel), Stijn Steels (Bel), Amaury Capiot (Bel), Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel).
Veranda's Willems Crelan: Stijn Devolder (Bel), Gaetan Bille (Bel), Sander Cordeel (Bel), Dries De Bondt (Bel), Huub Duijn (Hol), Christophe Premont (Bel), Stef Van Zummeren (Bel), Otto Vergaerde (Bel).
Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel), Frederik Backaert (Bel), Wesley Kreder (Hol), Yoann Offredo (Fra), Simone Antonini (Ita), Kevin Van Melsen (Bel), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel), Frederik Veuchelen (Bel).
Wilier Triestina: Filippo Pozzato (Ita), Liam Bertazzo (Ita), Matteo Draperi (Ita), Giuseppe Fonzi (Ita), Jacopo Mosca (Ita), Rafael Andriato (Bra), Alex Turrin (Ita), Eugert Zhupa (Alb).