Niki Terpstra (Quickstep-Floors) lived up to his pre-race favourite tag to win the 102nd edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) secured 2nd place and Philippe Gilbert (Quickstep-Floors) rounded out the podium.
Starting in Antwerpen, the peloton set off in cold and wet conditions with 264km to race before reaching the finish in Oudenaarde. From the gun there were numerous attacks and Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka had Jay Thomson and Johann van Zyl following all the early moves. Quickstep-Floors were letting nothing go though, and chased anyone that made a move for the first 60km of the race.
It was only once we reached the first undulations near Aalst when our young South African, Ryan Gibbons decided to have a go. Gibbons was chased down at first but his persistence at pushing the pace in front saw him go clear with 10 other riders.
Just as Gibbons had gone clear, a moment of misfortune then resulted in our Belgian leader, Julien Vermote, being clipped by a car in the convoy. Vermote had to pop his shoulder back into place after the fall before continuing, but was able to return to the peloton, albeit with some discomfort for the rest of the race.
Gibbons and his breakaway companions were then able to open a 5-minute gap on the peloton and led the race for the next 100km, before tackling the Muur van Geraardsbergen. After a good day out, Gibbons lost contact with the head of the race on the Muur. The pace also picked up in the main bunch going up the famed climb, causing the first real dangerous splits of the race.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Vermote were caught in the 2nd part of the split over the top of the Muur, but our South Africans Nic Dougall & Jaco Venter were on hand to close the gap between the two groups. Gibbons was eventually reeled in by the main bunch with 80km to go, leaving our African Team in a good position by having 5 riders in the main group heading to the Oude Kwaremont.
With 55km to go the race hit the Oude Kwaremont, and subsequently split into 3 groups. Boasson Hagen and Vermote were caught out again and had to fight hard to rejoin the main group just before the Paterberg. Over the top of the Paterberg, our two team captains were back at the head of the main bunch but 3 riders had slipped off the front, one being the in-form Danish Champion, Pederesen.
The next big test would be the Koppenberg, and it was here where Vermote’s race came unstuck for good. Our Belgian was involved in another crash on the steep cobbled climb and he had to resort to running up the last section of the climb. Over the top of the climb, only 30 riders remained in contention including Boasson Hagen, but Vermote was now out of the running.
The race winning move then came with 25km to go, when Terpstra saw his chance to attack. Nobody could respond to the Dutchman and he quickly rode across the small gap to the 3 in front, before blowing them away on the final time up the Oude Kwaremont.
The main group also shattered on the climb, leaving Boasson Hagen in the 2nd chase group on the road. There was not enough fire power left in any of the chase groups to bring Terpstra back, and he took a fine solo win. Boasson Hagen sprinted home to secure 19th place for our African Team, Vermote a few mins further back in 41st.
Edvald Boasson Hagen – Rider
It was a really hard day. From the start it was really fast and they just kept the pace on all day. I managed to ride in a good position for most of the race but I ran out of power to stay with the front guys right at the end. It was a tough day overall.
JP Heynderickx – Sport Director
It was a typically tough Tour of Flanders race. In the beginning we tried to go in the break but it took a while to go. After 60km Ryan got into the break, and we actually told the guys if there are 10 riders in the break we must have someone there, so he did a perfect job. He survived until the Muur and then the race was really on. We had some bad luck with Julien who crashed twice and will now get his shoulder checked out. We still had Eddy in the final, he was in a good position on the Oude Kwaremont the final time but just couldn’t make it into the front group, which went on to sprint for third place. We were hoping for a better end result today but we fight on, and look forward to the next races.