Greg Van Avermaet won E3-Harelbeke for the first time, the Olympic Champion confirming his place among the top favourites for the Tour of Flanders. In a sprint that began from virtually a standing start, he beat Phillipe Gilbert, resurgent this spring for Quickstep. Olivier Naesen took third and made it a Belgian sweep of the podium.
For Naesen, it was a continuation of a spring in which he’s establishing himself amongst the elite of the cobbled classics. Gilbert briefly dropped him on the final climb, the Tiegemberg, but he fought back on the descent. He has proved himself strong and consistent, and almost rode the two established names off his wheel as he led out the sprint.
Behind the lead group, Durbridge and Postlberger took fourth and fifth as the remaining members of the larger lead group, which were led home by Valgren and Colbrelli.
The sun shone on Flanders today and it was a cagey start, with the race long underway before a six-man break was allowed to head up the road, gaining an advantage of around five minutes on the flat outwards leg. The most significant event was a crash for Gallopin, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear he didn’t break anything.
As we’ve come to expect, the speed and nervousness picked up in the peloton as the hellingen began and there were crashes and ill-timed punctures aplenty, with Benoot, Lutsenko and Van Keirsbulck among the notable names to lose ground, and Jack Bauer looking like he took the worst tumble.
It was like old times as Tom Boonen led the field up the Taaienberg and Quick Step remained active on the front, and with 65km to go Gilbert drew out an elite group that quickly caught the break. The chase from the peloton was sporadic and disorganised, though Katusha and Trek did make efforts to bring things back for their protected riders who’d missed the break.
On the approaches to the Paterberg at 41km to go, Sagan was caught in a crash and dropped out of the peloton, by then a minute behind G1. After the Oude Kwaremont, Naesen, Gilbert and Van Avermaet shed the remainder of the front group and left the race splintered behind them. The three combined well and only Fabio Felline showed any meaningful desire to bring the race back together and with 15km to go there was more than two minutes of cushion for the three at the front, who began looking at each other, though no more meaningful attacks were launched before the final sprint.
With just nine sleeps left until the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Lotto Soudal will be ruing their luck and Sagan has had a rare off day, but the front three must go into the biggest race of all full of confidence.
- Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team, 4:48:17
- Philippe Gilbert, Quick-Step Floors, s.t.
- Oliver Naesen, AG2R La Mondiale, s.t.
- Luke Durbridge, Orica-Scott, at 0:40
- Lukas Pöstlberger, Bora-Hansgrohe, at 0:41
- Michael Valgren Andersen, Astana Pro Team, at 0:52
- Sonny Colbrelli, Bahrain-Merida, s.t.
- Tom Boonen, Quick-Step Floors, s.t.
- Dylan Van Baarle, Cannondale-Drapac, s.t.
- Alberto Bettiol, Cannondale-Drapac
- Fabio Felline, Trek-Segafredo, s.t.
- Jens Keukeleire, Orica-Scott, s.t.
- John Degenkolb, Trek-Segafredo, s.t.
- Tiesj Benoot, Lotto Soudal, s.t.
- Luke Rowe, Team Sky, s.t.