Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) claimed the second Monument of his career by out sprinting Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) to win the 2015 Tour of Flanders.
Kristoff, winner of Milan-San Remo in 2014 and runner-up in the same race last month, went into the Tour of Flanders among the favourites and duly delivered, following Terpstra’s move with approximately 30km to go as the pair broke free of a select lead group.
And the duo stayed clear until the finish, despite the best efforts of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in pursuit, with Kristoff comfortably disposing of Terstra in the sprint and Van Avermaet claiming third.
“I’m really happy to win,” said Kristoff. “It’s a big dream and my big goal this season, so I’m happy to have done it.”
Meanwhile, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who had been visible at the front of the race throughout, finished 14th as part of the third group on the road.
The 99th Tour of Flanders started as one of the most open editions in recent years given the absence of the injured Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep), who have won the race six times between them since 2005.
While E3 Harelbeke and, in particular, Gent-Wevelgem were both played out in difficult conditions, a near-perfect spring day dawned for the biggest race in Belgium.
The day’s breakaway went up the road with just under 50km on the clock and was formed of Matt Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka), Dylan Groenewegen (Roompot), Clement Venturini (Cofidis), Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18), Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Marco Frapporti (Androni).
The escapees were allowed to build-up an advantage of more than six minutes but the group was reduced to seven riders when Sergent was bumped from behind by the Shimano neutral service car, sending the Trek Factory Racing riders to the floor and nursing a fractured collarbone.
It was the first of two incidents on a chaotic day for neutral service, with a different Shimano vehicle ploughing into the back of an FDJ.fr team car which had abruptly stopped to tend to Sébastien Chavanel, who was subsequently planted onto the curb to end his race.
The escapees’ advantage began to tumble as the race progressed, with the lead group beginning to disintegrate and a number of riders, including Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) jumping from the front of the peloton to bridge across as the race began to liven up.
With the peloton now significantly reduced in numbers, and the cobbled Hellingen climbs begin ticked off one by one, the race came back together at the front for the final hour of racing, with a group of approximately 30 riders remaining in contention.
Terpstra then chose his moment to attack on the Kruisberg, the third last of the Ronde’s 19 climbs, and Kristoff closely marked the 2014 Paris-Roubaix champion, and the powerful pair quickly opened up daylight from the main group ahead of the final double header of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
The lead duo held a 16-second advantage going on to the Oude Kwaremont and it was there that Thomas, also one of the pre-race favourites following his win at E3 Harelbeke, made his move, accelerating with Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) initially the only rider to stay on his wheel, though, with BMC Racing leading the chase, a larger group came back together at the top of the climb, with Terpstra and Kristoff still out front and eager to increase their lead.
And they did just that, increasing up the advantage once again to nearly 30 seconds on the smooth tarmac on the run-in to the super-steep Paterberg, which pitches up to more than 25 per cent. With Terpstra and Kristoff’s move looking increasingly dangerous with the kilometres quickly ticking down, Van Avermaet made his move, taking Sagan with him and distancing the likes of Thomas, Lars Boom (Astana) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
It then became a 12km, four-horse race to the line, with Terpstra and Kristoff often in sight of Van Avermaet and Sagan, but the time gap doing in the wrong direction for the chasers.
Terpstra’s turns on the front became increasingly shorter as the line approached in an attempt to tire his opponent and weaken Kristoff’s potent sprint, but when the pair came into the finishing straight together there was only to be one winner.
Kristoff opened up his sprint and quickly put daylight between himself and Terpstra, while Van Avermaet rolled across the line in third having dropped Sagan in his desperate pursuit of the leaders.
Not the best day on the bike, just lacked the legs of last weekend. Gutted! Huge thanks to the team and all your support!! #muchappreciated
— Geraint Thomas (@GeraintThomas86) April 5, 2015