Niki Terpstra wins Tour of Flanders with impressive solo break
Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) soloed to glory in the Tour of Flanders ahead of Denmark's Mads Pedersen and compatriot Philippe Gilbert..
Dutch Niki Terpstra of Quick-Step Floors celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 102nd edition of the 'Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour des Flandres - Tour of Flanders', a one day cycling race, 264,7km from Antwerp to Oudenaarde, on April 1, 2018.
Terpstra, 33, rode clear of a select group of favourites with 26 kilometres remaining of the gruelling 265km cobbled classic in Belgium. He reeled in a leading three-man break on the third ascent of the famous Oude Kwaremont climb before zipping clear to take a deserved victory in the second Monument of the season.
Trek-Segafredo's Pedersen, who was one of the remaining three escapees, held on to take a well-earned second place in Oudenaarde while defending champion Gilbert outsprinted another Dane, Michael Valgren of Astana, to ensure Quick-Step would finish with two riders on the podium.
In what was a far from vintage spectacle, the Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC) led home an elite group containing the frustrated world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) for fifth place.
Sagan completed the top ten ahead of Belgians Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) and Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan), and the Czech national champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors).
Terpstra's win made it a double Dutch day of glory on Easter Sunday following compatriot Anna van der Breggen's victory for Boels-Dolmans in the women's race hours earlier.
Anna van der Breggen claims Flanders glory
Winner of Paris-Roubaix in 2014, the in-form Terpstra finished last year's Ronde van Vlaanderen in third place and finished runner-up in 2015.
"It's a dream," Terpstra said after finally winning the Ronde on his tenth attempt – becoming the first Dutchman to stand atop the Flanders podium in 32 years.
To win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders was a dream of me as a young kid when I was already crazy about these races. I cannot describe how happy I am to have these victories on my palmares.
How the race was won
Despite wet and windy conditions, the 102nd edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen got off to a fast start as all attempts to form a break were thwarted by the Quick-Step team of defending champion Gilbert.
With around 50km on the board, 10 riders finally managed to extricate themselves from the peloton. They saw their advantage balloon to five minutes after the chase was disrupted by numerous crashes – with Belgian Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) twice being held up by large spills on the wet roads.
Sep Vanmarcke in early crash at Tour of Flanders
Five cobbled sections and 18 climbs saw the peloton whittled down in what was a fascinating – if a little underwhelming – battle of attrition over the muddy farm roads of Flanders.
The first of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont was followed by a big crash which held up the Belgian champion Oliver Naesen (Ag2R-La Mondiale) with 100km remaining.
Spaniard Ivan Garcia (Bahrain Merida) led the break over the summit of the iconic Muur-Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen as the advantage of the escapees dropped to two minutes. Unlike 12 months previously, the Muur did not prove particularly decisive – although the race was soon blown apart on the second ascent of the Kwaremont with 55km remaining.
As the rain gave way to sunshine, six riders remained out ahead as the race hit the narrow cobbled slopes of the infamous Koppenberg with 45km remaining. Soon, only Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First), Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky) and Pedersen remained on the front of the race.
With the leading trio holding a 30-second gap over the elite chasing group, Quick-Step floors made the most of their numerical advantage with a clinical attack from Terpstra on the false flat following the Kruisberg climb with 26km remaining.
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Terpstra made his move moments after responding to a brave but ultimately unsuccessful attack from the Milan-Sanremo champion Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida, who was making his long-awaited Flanders debut.
As Terpstra rode clear, his team-mates Gilbert, Stybar and Yves Lampaert could sit on the wheels of the chasing riders while the likes of Sagan, Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke all tried in vain to close the gap.
Showing just why he holds the Strava record for the Kwaremont, Terpstra caught the three leaders on the penultimate climb inside the final 20km – with only Pedersen able to match his power.
Terpstra then rode clear of the Dane ahead of the final climb of the Paterberg, which he crested with 30 seconds to play with over Sagan, who had edged clear of the chasing pack.
Sagan was soon caught on the run into Oudenaarde but the 11-man group was unable to eat into Terpstra's lead – nor was it able to reel in the impressive Pedersen before the finish.
While his advantage did not quite allow him the luxury of emulating team-mate Gilbert and carrying his bike over the line, Terpstra was able to savour his first ever win in Flanders as his rivals fought for scraps in his wake.
Pedersen came home 11 seconds down before Gilbert crossed the line ahead of Valgren – who had to recover after a nasty crash – 17 seconds behind his victorious team-mate. Once again, Quick-Step's class and power in numbers shone through as Terpstra took his second scalp of the season following his win in E3 Harelbeke eight days earlier.
Terpstra's win was Quick-Step's 21st – and biggest – of the season so far and lays down the gauntlet ahead of next Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.