Luke Rowe encouraged by start to Classics campaign
Team Sky's Welshman third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne as Greg van Avermaet and Peter Sagan win on opening weekend
Team Sky’s Luke Rowe finished the opening weekend of the Spring Classics with his first Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne podium to put him in confident mood ahead of this season’s campaign.
The Welshman finished sixth at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, as Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) beat world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) for the second consecutive year.
Rowe was again in the thick of it at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, this time holding on for third place as Sagan bagged his first victory of the season ahead of Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo).
And while a Classics victory remains the ultimate goal, for both Rowe and Team Sky, the 26-year-old took confidence from his results over the weekend.
“I’m definitely happy with the opening weekend,” he told TeamSky.com. “You can say it’s nice to be able to get those results and take some confidence from it – but it’s two nice results in itself.
“These are two really hard one-day races. Everyone who is going to be at the thick end of the rest of the Classics is here.
“I’m knocking on the door and not far away. It’s by no means a win which is what we are aiming for – but it’s nice to be on the podium and experience that. Onwards and upwards.
“I’m at the stage now where I’m fairly confident of making those front groups. If it splits and there are 20-30 guys I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t there.
“But at the same time in these Classics you’ve got to be so clinical, and it’s so easy to make a mistake and not be there so it’s great to be on the front and full-on racing again.”
The Omloop proved a crash-laden start to the Classics season, with Tom Boonen (QuickStep Floors), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) among the big names to hit the deck on the cobbles early in the race.
The chief protagonists came together on the Taaienberg, with Stuyven accelerating and bringing with him a large group of favourites, which Rowe and team-mate Ian Stannard bridged across to on the Eikenberg.
Sagan then upped the ante on the Wolvenberg climb, and bridged across to the day’s early leaders with another acceleration on the cobbles at Haaghoek, with Van Avermaet, Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) for company.
The remnants of the day’s break, and indeed Gougeard, were distanced on the Molenberg with 35km remaining, however, and the three remaining leaders opened up a race-winning lead.
Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet and Sagan were still together onto the final straight, with the former attempting a long sprint before Van Avermaet kicked and could not be caught.
There was controversy surrounding the Olympic champion’s victory, however, after television footage showed the lead group riding on the sidewalk at Mater – despite express warning from the UCI pre-race not to do it.
Nevertheless, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne featured similar protagonists after a rapid start to the race meant it was some time before a break formed.
The decisive selection was made on the Oude Kwaremont with 80km remaining, where Zdenek Stybar (QuickStep Floors) and Benoot attacked and brought a 20-strong group with them to the front.
Sagan, Van Avermaet, Stannard, Rowe and Stuyven were also all there, and it was the latter who attacked again on the finishing circuit.
Sagan was alive to the danger, however, and prevailed in the sprint to claim the first win of his second year as world champion.
Rowe beat Benoot and Matteo Trentin (QuickStep Floors) to the final podium place, meanwhile, to prove he too is in good form.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017: result
1) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – 4.55.06hrs
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe – ST
3) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Cannondale-Drapac
4) Fabio Felline (ITA) – Trek-Segafredo +45”
5) Oscar Gatto (ITA) – Astana +52”
6) Luke Rowe (GBR) – Team Sky – ST
7) Oliver Naesen (BEL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
8) Jasper Stuyven (BEL) – Trek-Segafredo
9) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – QuickStep Floors +56”
10) Adrien Petit (FRA) – Direct Energie +58”
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2017: result
1) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe – 4.37.49hrs
2) Jasper Stuyven (BEL) – Trek-Segafredo – ST
3) Luke Rowe (GBR) – Team Sky
4) Tiesj Benoot (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal
5) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – QuickStep Floors
6) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ +6”
7) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – ST
8) Oliver Naesen (BEL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – QuickStep Floors
10) Baptiste Planckaert (BEL) – Katusha-Alpecin
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