Supreme Peter Sagan wins 100th Tour of Flanders
World champion Peter Sagan won the first Monument of his illustrious career with a brave solo victory in the 100th edition of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen on Sunday.
Tinkoff’s Sagan, 26, dropped Belgian Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) on the final ascent of the famous Paterberg climb before holding on to deny Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) a record-breaking fourth Flanders win in his final season.
A forlorn Cancellara waved to the crowd as he took second place ahead of the battling Vanmarcke, who overcome an early crash to fly the flag for the host nation after pre-race favourite Greg van Avermaet (BMC) was forced out with a suspected broken collarbone following a crash 103km from the finish.
Peter Sagan on the podiumAFP
Defending champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the sprint for fourth place, leading promising Welshman Luke Rowe (Team Sky) and spirited Dutchman Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale) over the line 48 seconds down on the imperious Sagan.
It was Sagan’s first Monument triumph in 18 attempts and came a week after the Slovakian took his first victory as world champion at Gent-Wevelgem. Sagan dedicated his victory to the two Belgian cyclists, Antoine Demoitié and Daan Myngheer, who were killed over the Easter weekend.
"I feel very good – I’m very happy," said an exhausted Sagan. "Today was super hard from start to finish – always full-gas. I had problems after one kilometer because I needed to change both wheels, and there were loads of crashes so it was very hard.
"I want to dedicate this win to the two guys who died last week – it’s very sad. Also to my team-mate Maciej Bodnar, who crashed badly in training and had to miss this race. I wish him a good recovery."
How the race was won
Despite the 11 cobbled climbs and seven cobbled sectors on the menu for the 255-kilometre race from Bruges, Sagan’s winning move was made on one of the sections of asphalt road ahead of the third-to-last ‘hellingen’ of the race.
Following an attack by former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) – the Polish rider who denied Sagan victory in E3 Harelbeke on Good Friday – Sagan zipped clear of the main favourites after the pack had been well and truly shuffled on the key Koppenberg and Taaienberg climbs inside the final 50km.
As Sagan and Kwiatkowski opened up a gap, Vanmarcke had the sense to sniff out the potential winning move and bounded clear in pursuit with 32km remaining. The trio combined well to catch a leading group of five riders – including Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) – ahead of the final two climbs, the second paring of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.
With Cancellara leading the chase alongside a medley of riders from Astana, Etixx-QuickStep, Katusha and Sky, the gap came down to just under 30 seconds ahead of the 2.2km cobbled Kwaremont climb. Sagan’s devastating tempo dropped Kwiatkowski straight away, but it was Cancellara’s blistering pace behind which bore the hallmarks of greatness. The Swiss powerhouse rode clear of the chasing group and past all the remaining escapees to set the scene perfectly ahead of the Paterberg.
The impressive Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Group Goubert) and Imanol Erviti (Movistar) – both components of the break – managed to join Cancellara and Dutch champion Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) between the climbs as they arrived at the foot of the Paterberg just 12 seconds behind the leading duo.
Sagan showed his class by roaring clear on the steepest 20 percent section of the climb, leaving Vanmarcke to be swept up by Cancellara who had himself ridden clear.
The gap over the top of the Paterberg was just 11 seconds for Sagan, who could well have thought about sitting up and trying his luck in a sprint 12km later. But instead classy Sagan went for broke and time trialled his way to Oudenaarde in defiance of the spirited chase. Cancellara and Vanmarcke held the gap at around 14 seconds before it increased to 25 seconds with 3km remaining. Further back, the Kristoff chasing group kept the pressure up with its own hopeful pursuit.
But Sagan held on to enter the history books as the winner of the 100th edition of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen – less than two hours after fellow world champion Armitstead also triumphed in the rainbow stripes.
“No one wants to work with me so it’s always better to drop everybody,” he said. Asked whether he was not targeting a Flanders-Roubaix double ahead of next Sunday’s ‘Hell of the North’, the Slovakian said: “Next week I will think about next week.”
Erviti – who was part of a six-man break that formed early in the race – and Claeys – who joined this splintered group after attacking inside the final 80km – were rewarded for their aggressive racing with top-10 finishes, in seventh and ninth respectively. Etixx pair Zdenek Stybar and Terpstra completed the top 10 in eighth and 10th – scant consolation for a team with such a persuasive bent towards the cobbled classics.
Van Avermaet denied by high-speed crash
Runner up in 2014 and third last year, Belgium’s Van Avermaet – the pre-race favourite after a flurry of spring wins – crashed out of the race with just over 100km remaining after an incident involving four of his BMC team-mates.
A nudge and a touch of wheels saw one rider career into another on a bike path to the right of a wide road, with Van Avermaet coming off worse alongside Italian team-mate Manuel Quinziato. Tearful and his head in his hands, Van Avermaet threw away his helmet in frustration. He was later taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone.
Another BMC rider, Germany’s Marcus Burghardt, crashed out earlier in a high-speed incident that also ended the hopes of Belgian youngster Tiesj Benoot, who had finished fifth in his debut Flanders last year for Lotto-Soudal.
Earlier, Frenchman Arnaud Demare, the surprise Milan-Sanremo victor last month, withdrew from the race after hitting the deck with a dozen riders, including a cluster of FDJ team-mates.
Shortly after this initial incident, Vanmarcke crashed at the back of the peloton and was forced to change bikes and chase back on with several LottoNL-Jumbo team-mates. Vanmarcke had to change his bike again later ahead of an eventful finale which saw him ride back into contention before generously gifting second place to the retiring Cancellara, making his final appearance in a race he has dominated so many times in recent years.
Cancellara’s second place means the Swiss veteran has now finished on the podium in 13 of the last 15 monuments he has completed – a worthy record for one of the biggest champions of his generation. Victory would have taken ‘Spartacus’ to a record fourth win in the Ronde – but he was denied by the brilliance of Sagan, a man who should surely now go on to add many monumental wins to his palmares.