Bob Jungels’ outstanding win in Kuurne. It is a rare treat when the strongest guy in a race just decides to go out and win it, even if that race doesn’t suit him, and that is without doubt what happened today as Jungels ate up the metres on the Kluisberg, dragging away a group of Oliver Naesen, Sebastian Langeveld and the Astana duo of Davide Ballerini and Magnus Cort, who had been in the day’s breakaway, from a split that had already formed. A long chase ensued, as the chase group followed the leaders and the peloton followed the chase group. The chase, populated heavily with Quick Step riders, never looked like an efficient force which may have had a hand in Michelton-Scott’s decision to ride hard on the front of the peloton in order to catch the chase group, despite it containing their leader Matteo Trentin, who I’m going to talk about now that I’ve mentioned him.
Trentin took a small tumble a few kilometres after the peloton joined him and for whatever reason was left without teammates for most of the chase back. He was caught by the cameras not-too-egregiously cutting a corner and a few kilometres later, he was freewheeling out the back of the peloton, ready to climb into the team car and was assumed to have been disqualified by the commentators and most viewers, though it later emerged that he had not in fact been pulled by the commissaires. Nils Politt, however, in fact suffered disqualification after riding on the same bike path that riders have taken in this race for years on end. Now, I’m happy about this because it’s not a cobbled race if nobody is riding on the cobbles. What I found more surprising was the fact that Politt was riding on a bike path because the gutter had been literally ripped out of the road. And while I’m against riders using bike paths, I’m for the presence of gutters, not on every climb or cobbled section but definitely on a couple. They add an interesting tactical element — think Boonen on the Taaienberg. Anyway, disqualifying a rider for riding three or thirty metres narrowly off the course is a very harsh sanction, but unlike in a stage race, where time or points penalties are an option there is no way to make the punishment fit the crime here: it is this or nothing. A strict application of the rules is the approach currently favoured by the powers that be and, as is so common throughout sport, there is no problem with this ruling so long as it applies to everyone all classics season, including the biggest stars. One thing is for sure: nobody will be in a hurry to test the limits of the commissaires, though those limits are as yet very, very amorphous.
Anyway, rulebreaking aside, so followed a fifty-kilometre chase on the flat roads after the group, with the deficit bouncing between half a minute and a full minute as Jumbo, Michelton for a while and Bora chased, with Deceuninck spoiling. While a minute’s advantage is nothing in a grand Tour stage with four pro conti riders in the break, Omloop and Kuurne are a whole different story and the last couple of editions of these two races seem to have been a litany of examples of small groups or individuals holding a small advantage. This group would soon become nothing more than an individual, as Jungels undertook to ride the final kilometres alone.
Always a good time-triallist, his thirty-second advantage gave him more than a fighter’s chance as the peloton severely lacked firepower, Jempy Drucker’s effort needing to be replicated by three or four other riders to be effective. The final attack of Jens Keukeleire, Niki Terpstra and Owain Doull would be stymied by Yves Lampaert joining them in a team role, riding in the middle and spoiling relays. This meant that Bob Jungels entered the final kilometre as the sure winner, making it a perfect two from two for Deceuninck-Quickstep, the first time they’ve done this in their history.