Tour of Flanders 2016: Peter Sagan claims first Monument win
World champion solos to victory after attack on the Paterberg
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) soloed to the first Monument victory of his career, attacking on the Paterberg to drop Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) before pulling his trademark wheelie as he crossed the Tour of Flanders 2016 finish line.
The Slovak world champion, who also won at Gent-Wevelgem a week earlier – his first two wins since pulling on the rainbow jersey – finished 25 seconds ahead of Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), who was racing the Tour of Flanders for the final time.
Vanmarcke claimed third, having had no answer to Sagan’s seated acceleration on the final cobbled berg with its 20 per cent maximum gradient, but the day belonged to the 26-year-old Slovakian.
Earlier the race had started at a frantic pace, and two home favourites, Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), were among those to have crashed out.
The former, who won at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, suffered a fractured collarbone in a crash which saw four BMC Racing riders hit the deck – Michael Schar also leaving in an ambulance, while Benoot suffered cuts and abrasions after an errant bidon caused him to fall.
The fast and furious pace meant there was nothing resembling a break until after the 70km mark, while Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) split the peloton with a big drive after the Molenberg.
Of the early breakaway, Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and Gijs van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) remained up the road when Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Nils Politt (Katusha) attacked the peloton and bridged the gap.
Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana) and Dimitri Claeys (Wanty Groupe-Gobert) also forged clear and the group had a two-minute advantage as they hit Oude Kwaremont for the second time.
Van Avermaet and Benoot aside, the favourites were all still together in the peloton but the attacks came thick and fast in the final 55km.
Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) accelerated on the Kwaremont, and was joined by Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale), while Ian Stannard (Team Sky) and Vanmarcke were part of a four-man group who attacked on the Koppenberg.
Cancellara, Sagan, Zdenek Stybar, Tom Boonen (both Etixx-QuickStep) and Team Sky trio Luke Rowe, Geraint Thomas and E3 Harelbeke winner Michal Kwiatkowski joined the Stannard group after the Taaienberg.
They laid a platform for Sagan and Kwiatkowski to accelerate, as they had done together at E3 Harelbeke, and when Vanmarcke latched on it made for a fearsome trio, joining the break with 25km remaining and a 40-second lead.
Kwiatkowski’s challenge faded on the final ascent of Oude Kwaremont, but Sagan and Vanmarcke continued to lead – Cancellara sensing the danger and attacking the chasing group behind them.
Sagan was a class above though, and still seated on the Paterberg he burst clear of Vanmarcke and earned himself a big solo lead.
Cancellara bridged across to Vanmarcke, and led the pursuit, but Sagan could not be brought back and celebrated victory in typically exuberant fashion.
Cancellara claimed second place, soaking in the atmosphere on the final straight for the last time as he finished on the Flanders podium for the fifth time.
After Vanmarcke, 2015 champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) led what remained of the front group across the line with Rowe claiming fifth and Thomas 12th.
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