Philippe Gilbert (Quickstep-Floors) won the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders after a 56km solo breakaway to the finish in Oudenaarde. Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) finished in 2nd place with Niki Terpstra making it an even better day for Quickstep by placing 3rd.
Once again, the Tour of Flanders lived up to all the pre-race hype with another drama filled and action packed 260km of racing. The famous Muur van Geraardsbergen was where the definitive action began as a group of 14 riders rode off the front of the peloton, even though the finish was still over 95km away.
Quickstep were the driving force behind this move as Tom Boonen powered on the front to open the gap. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka had Scott Thwaites, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Bernie Eisel still present in the peloton after the Muur but as race favourites Peter Sagan and Van Avermaet had missed the move, it was up to their teams to chase. Our African Team was dealt a blow when Eisel was forced to stop and wait for a new bike but our Austrian captain could still make it back to the head of the race.
Eisel drove the reduced peloton into the foot of the 2nd passing of the Oude-Kwaremont, but the leaders had a good 55 second lead. It was on this cobbled climb where Gilbert made his bold solo move with still over 56km to go. With the Belgian champion going clear, the chase group had lost its impetus and this allowed the main group of Boasson Hagen, Thwaites and Janse van Rensburg to ride back into contention.
By the time Gilbert reached the Koppenberg he had 1-minute on the main group with our 2 protected riders, Boasson Hagen and Thwaites. The Taaienberg then through a spanner into the works as Boonen was delayed by a mechanical and Sagan and Van Avermaet attacked, creating a chase group of seven with our two African Team riders left chasing behind.
The final ascent of the Oude-Kwaremont followed and it was here where another plot twist occurred when Sagan accidentally clipped the barrier and took Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) down. Behind, Boasson Hagen was distanced from what was left of the main group while Thwaites courageously hung on. After the crash, it seemed the wind was taken out of the sail of the chase and Gilbert was able to hold the gap steady at 1-minute.
Eventually Van Avermaet, Terpstra and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale) got organised behind Gilbert and the gap started to drop in the final 10km but it was a little too late. Gilbert crossed the line with his bike raised above his head, 29 seconds ahead of the three chasers. Thwaites crossed the line 53 seconds after Gilbert and secured a well fought 16th place overall for our African Team.
Scott Thwaites – Rider
I had a crash just before the Muur and damaged my front wheel which I needed to change. So, I hit the Muur in pretty much last place and that’s obviously where things kicked off. It was really difficult to come back after that but Tyler was great and helped to bring me back. The race was already up the road by that time so it was just a matter of staying with that group of Van Avermaet who had also missed the move. I started to suffer a bit on the penultimate climb of the Kwaremont, it’s not really my favourite climb as I prefer the shorter steeper ones. So I went through a bad spell here and couldn’t match the other guys when they started to jump away. Towards the end, my legs started to come around for the final 8km. The group I was in, was riding well and I could work with them to come back to the sharp end of the race which I was happy about. There were some strong sprinters in the group so I tried to stay near the front to achieve as high a place as possible. When the sprint started and I got out the saddle, there was just nothing left in the legs so I slipped back quite a few places which was a shame. I finished with a top 20 which is not a bad result when you in a group sprinting for 5th. It shows I am there or thereabouts, I just need a little bit more or just no bad luck rather. The result also shows that I have what it takes, I am progressing well and I have settled into the team nicely. I can see for next year I should work on my sprint so that if I am in a similar situation, I can achieve a better result because a top 10 would have been good today.