Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra taught the cycling world a lesson you’d think they know by now: that the strongest guy on the strongest team can’t be stopped. Today Terpstra was the ace to play in a cagey Ronde van Vlaanderen, and the Dutchman completed the career Cobbled Monument Double with a solo victory in Oudenaarde, becoming the first Dutch winner in 32 years. Terpstra attacked in unlikely places, the last of which was the Hotond, countering a couple earlier moves by Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali, and was never seen again. Terpstra caught the remaining breakaway on the Oude Kwaremont, shook off a dogged pursuit by Trek’s Mads Pedersen, and finished the job for his team.
And as has been the case all spring, that team was the story. It’s one thing to have numbers up front, as several squads did, but it’s something else entirely when those teammates are as powerful as Philippe Gilbert (the defending winner), Zdenek Stybar and Yves Lampaert — plus riders like Iljo Keisse who worked like a Belgian draft horse earlier in the race. They play their role to perfection over and over, and as crafty as other teams might try to be, the difference isn’t merely cleverness or timing. It’s wattage.
Behind Terpstra, Pedersen held on for second place, while the heads of state jockeyed for third, secured by an escaping Gilbert as a final reminder of who’s in charge in Flanders.
Little of note happened in the opening 150km apart from the retirement of Cofidis captain Christophe Laporte from illness. A large crash on a wide road took out several riders with 100km to go, including Belgian champion Oliver Naesen, though only Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko was hurt enough to go to the hospital, and Naesen got back on in time for the Muur van Geraardsbergen... for a moment. On the descent off the Muur some 40 riders were left behind a gap and lost the race, taking Naesen with them. Things opened up but returned to a peloton en route back to Ronse.
Things finally heated up as the race approached the Kanarieberg, with the lead group in sight. Iljo Keisse of Quick Step was the locomotive on the train as it sped up. But only Tom Devriendt of Wanty and Ivan Garcia of Bahrain-Merida got away, taking 90 seconds as the peloton continued to bide its time. Groupama-FDJ spent its share of time pacing things, as did Sky early on, though as the race approached the Oude Kwaremont for the second of three ascents, numerous teams moved into position.
The race went bonkers, predictably, entering Kwaremont, and after a few near-misses the first crash happened in the person of Mitch Docker, who tumbled into a barbed wire fence at the foot of the climb. From there things began opening up as Yves Lampaert took the front, only to discover no teammates. Three groups split out on the N-route after the Oude Kwaremont, but they were all together entering the Paterberg.
On the Koppenberg six riders got things started led by Dylan van Baarle for Sky, with seconds over the main group. Pain was all over the faces of the riders in front, as the peloton was further reduced by the traditional stoppages in the middle. Van Baarle, Langeveld and Mads Pederson were alone heading into Mariaborrestraat and the Steenbekdries.
Greg Van Avermaet hit the gas up the Taaienberg and put his rivals under serious pressure, announcing his fitness to the masses, but again the favorites regrouped. Terpstra launched a countermove afterward but couldn’t get clear, followed by Stybar making a jump for a minute or two before being neutralized.
The war of attrition continued into Ronse, where Sonny Colbrelli accelerated on the Kruisberg, which led to a counter by Stybar, who drew Sagan, Nibali and Kwiatkowski. That grouping freaked the peloton all the way out, and got closed down, but Nibali launched a counter over the Hotond (top end of the Kruisberg) with Terpstra for company, but it was Terpstra who finished the climb alone, behind only the three riders from the break. From there the heads of state began calculating their options, all of them reduced by Philippe Gilbert, Lampaert and Stybar sitting on their wheels. With 24km it was largely a question of whether Terpstra could finish things off.
Terpstra remained in the middle until the Oude Kwaremont, where he finally bridged up to the leaders and came straight past them, with only Pederson sticking to him for a while. Benoot and Vanmarcke took charge of the chase over the top of the climb dropping the entire Italian contingent and several others. But they accomplished little with so many of Terpstra’s teammates on hand, and the gap was up to 43 seconds when Sagan took off.
With 13km of flat roads to the line, Sagan was alone in third, 30 seconds back, with Pedersen still gamely chasing Terpstra up ahead. But it was all too late, as the Dutchman joined a select company of riders who won the E3 Prijs and Ronde van Vlaanderen in the same year, most recently Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. Sagan was caught and left behind in a countermove by Gilbert for the final podium spot.
Terpstra breaks the Dutch drought that dates back to Adrie van der Poel and his 1986 victory. It’s the 10th victory for Netherlands riders in history. Notably, Pedersen’s second place was the first Danish podium position since Rolf Sorensen’s win in 1997. And I suppose Gilbert’s defense was the best such one since Fabian Cancellara’s second consecutive victory in 2014. Great company.
The Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen entirely together with 37km to go entering the Kanarieberg, where riders started going out the back under the pace led by Elena Cecchini.
On the Kruisberg the peloton split, and in the reshuffling over the Hotond Anna van der Breggen made her move. With teammates on hand in the peloton to disrupt things, van der Breggen built up nearly a minute’s advantage as the race hit the Oude Kwaremont with 20km remaining. And that was that. Ashleigh Moolman escaped on the Oude Kwaremont for a while, but the race was back together chasing van der Breggen at the top of the Paterberg, and the remaining podium places were decided by a sprint, won by Amy Pieters.
Unlike the men’s race, van der Breggen’s win isn’t quite the milestone for the Dutch women, who have won here regularly. But it is van der Breggen’s first win, after two forgettable results for the Olympic champion.
1 Niki Terpstra, Quick Step
2 Mads Pedersen, Trek
3 Philippe Gilbert, Quick Step
[more to come]
1 Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam, 4:08:46
2 Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam, at 1:08
3 Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott Women
4 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio ((RSA)) Cervelo Bigla Pro Cycling Team
5 Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam
6 Malgorzata Jasinska (Pol) Movistar Team Women
7 Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Team Sunweb Women
8 Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Wiggle High5
9 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM Racing
10 Megan Guarnier (USA) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam, at 1.11