The stars aligned for Niki Terpstra at the Tour of Flanders, as the Dutchman soloed to victory to seal his second Monument success – four years after winning Paris-Roubaix.
Terpstra attacked on the run-in to the final ascent of Oude Kwaremont, dropping Milan-San Remo winners and Flanders debutant Vincenzo Nibali in the process.
And the QuickStep Floors rider never looked back, repeating his solo victories at Le Samyn and E3 Harelbeke from earlier this season with the biggest prize on the Flandrien calendar.
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was second, while 2017 winner – Terpstra’s QuickStep Floors team-mate – Philippe Gilbert rounded off the podium.
And Terpstra – the first Dutchman to win the race in more than 30 years – says victory fulfilled a career-long dream.
“To be victorious in these races you need very good legs, but also luck," he said. “Everything went perfect for me.
“It’s incredible; winning De Ronde and Paris-Roubaix was a dream I had since I was a kid and watched these two races on television.
“That’s when I fell in love with them and now, having won both, it gives me huge joy. I can’t tell you how happy I am."
After last year’s race opened up on the Muur the pace – with a belatedly-formed, 11-strong break up the road – was high on the run-in to the iconic climb again this year, and again incident-packed.
This time it was a major crash broke the peloton apart, with Belgian champion Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale), former winner Stijn Devolder (Verandas Willems-Crelan) and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) among those to hit the deck.
Terpstra made his first notable move on the Koppenberg, meanwhile, with a strong group of contenders coming together to chase a new, six-rider leading group.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), Nibali, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Gilbert, Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and former winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) were all in the mix.
Accelerations were frequent thereafter – Van Avermaet upping the ante on the Taaienberg, and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) leading a strong attack on the Kruisberg.
As the cobbles made way for asphalt on the latter climb, however, it was a kick by Nibali – marked by Terpstra – that proved decisive.
Terpstra pressed on alone shortly afterwards, and had surged past the three remaining leaders before they reached Kwaremont – Pedersen the last to lose the Dutchman’s wheel.
Sagan’s attempted counter-attack on the Paterberg – the final climb – came to nothing, and Terpstra was left to celebrate his first Tour of Flanders success after a number of near misses in the past.
Tour of Flanders 2018: result
1) Niki Terpstra (NED) – QuickStep Floors – 6.21.25hrs
2) Mads Pedersen (DEN) – Trek-Segafredo +12"
3) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – QuickStep Floors +17"
4) Michael Valgren (DEN) – Astana +20"
5) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing +25"
6) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe – ST
7) Jasper Stuyven (BEL) – Trek-Segafredo
8) Tiesj Benoot (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal
9) Wout van Aert (BEL) – Verandas Willems-Crelan
10) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – QuickStep Floors