Philippe Gilbert solos to stunning Tour of Flanders 2017 victory
Belgian champion goes it alone for 55km to claim first Ronde win
Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (QuickStep Floors) soloed to a superb victory at the 2017 Tour of Flanders, his first in the race and fourth Monument success in all.
Gilbert was part of an elite group which forged clear on the Muur before attacking solo over the top of Oude Kwaremont with 55km to go.
And despite having the likes of Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) chasing him down, Gilbert held a steady lead, just shy of a minute, which he never looked like surrendering.
Sagan crashed into a barrier on the final Oude Kwaremont ascent, which only furthered Gilbert’s hopes, and despite tiring on the final run-in to the finish, it was the Belgian champion holding his bike aloft as he celebrated victory.
An eight-man break had animated the early part of the day’s racing – Britain’s Mark McNally (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) among them – but it was on the Muur, back on the route for the first time since 2011, the race exploded into life.
Gilbert and team-mates Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin were perfectly placed on the run-in to the climb, and with Team Sky joining the pace-setting on the cobbles the elastic snapped in the strung out peloton.
It led to an elite front group forming, with the QuickStep Floors trio joined by Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) among others.
With the numerical advantage, QuickStep were required to do the bulk of the work but with Sagan, Van Avermaet and Lotto-Soudal’s several leaders all missing the move, the elite group all worked well together.
Boonen and Trentin upped the pace on the run-in to the Kwaremont for the second time, having already swept up the earlier break, and it proved the perfect foil for Gilbert who bolted clear over the top.
It came just as the Sagan/Van Avermaet group was chasing back on, and as Boonen took his foot of the gas the groups started to come back together.
Vanmarcke took a bad tumble, which took Rowe out of contention too, and there was plenty of drama still to come too.
Sagan upped the ante on the Taaienberg, after the chasing groups came together, and caused a new break to go clear but not before Boonen’s race was effectively ended by a mechanical.
On the climb on which he has made his name in the past, Boonen had to stop for a bike change and, when his replacement bike also misfired he and his legions of fans cut frustrated figures as he was left stranded while the chasing group disappeared up the ascent.
Sagan’s move was sufficient to launch a new chasing group, with Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) for company, while Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac) and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) were further up the road.
Gilbert’s lead continued to hover around the minute-mark, however, and the Belgian champion barely missed a beat as he battled over Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg for the final time.
Behind him, Sagan’s collision with a barrier took down Van Avermaet and Naesen too and proved the final straw for the chase’s hopes of bringing Gilbert back.
Van Avermaet remounted, but even when Gilbert tired on the final run-in to the line the chasing group had too much to do.
With a look over his shoulder he dismounted and carried his bike across the line above his head, celebrating a victory perhaps even bigger than his Ardennes Classics clean-sweep in 2011.
Van Avermaet won the race for second place, ahead of Gilbert’s team-mate Niki Terpstra, but it was not to be for the Olympic champion.
Tour of Flanders 2017: result
1) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – QuickStep Floors – 6.23.45hrs
2) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing +28"
3) Niki Terpstra (NED) – QuickStep Floors – ST
4) Dylan van Baarle (NED) – Cannondale-Drapac
5) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha-Alpecin +52"
6) Sacha Modolo (ITA) – UAE Team Emirates – ST
7) John Degenkolb (GER) – Trek-Segafredo
8) Pippo Pozzato (ITA) – Wilier Triestina
9) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – Direct Energie
10) Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida