Kristoff Takes Tour of Flanders
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is the first Norwegian winner of the Tour of Flanders. The Katusha man dominated the last 30 km of the rugged, 264.2-km classic, latching on to Niki Terpstra’s (Etixx-Quick Step) attack on the Paterberg and outsprinting the Dutchman at the finish to win in 6:26:32. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took third at 0:07.
The start was delayed because of a farmer’s protest. At about 20 km, Jesse Sergent (Trek), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18) Matthew Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka), and Dylan Groenewegen (Roompot Oranje) sallied off of the front. Eventually, Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Marco Frapporti (Androni Giacattoli-Venezuela) joined the break, which led the field by nearly seven minutes at 60 km.
Sky led the bunch, which had begun to eat into the break’s advantage on the day’s first climbs. Bradley Wiggins of the British squad crashed just short of the base of the Oude Kwaremont and needed two bike changes before he could rejoin his mates at the front of the peloton.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) sparked several counterattacks, but the bunch snuffed them out. Punctures plagued the peloton, with Luca Paolini (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) dropping back to change tires or bikes. All returned to the peloton.
On the approach to the Haaghoek, a Shimano service car struck Sergent. The New Zealander abandoned the race with a broken collarbone. The break was down to six riders. At this point, the escape led the bunch by about three minutes.
Further up the road, a Shimano neutral car struck a FDJ team car that had stopped for Sebastien Chavanel. The FDJ car was knocked into Chavanel, who fell but continued racing.
On the Kaperij, Bak and Gaudin attacked and dropped their companions. Behind, Greipel resumed his attacks, but the Belgian was unable to stay away. The bunch’s pace increased as the race reached the Oude Kwaremont for the second time.
Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) led the field onto the climb. The peloton caught the escapees at the summit. Greipel continued his escape attempts. On the Koppenberg, former Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder (Trek) and prerace favorite Geraint Thomas (Sky) led the pursuit, which reeled in Greipel.
Alexei Lutsenko (Astana) had a dig and forged a 0:30 lead. Greipel and Chavanel made moves that were snuffed out. On the Taaienberg, Van Avermaet chimed in, and the resulting combustion formed a large lead group. Lutsenko was reeled in, and 30 riders prepared to fight out the finish.
On the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, Terpstra made his move, and Kristoff joined him. Greipel, Sky, and BMC led the chase. Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), a prerace favorite, was dropped. Thomas attempted to bridge up to the move, but Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) took his wheel. At the base of the descent, the pair led the chasers by 0:27.
Daniel Oss (BMC) led the pursuit on behalf of Van Avermaet, and Stybar covered moves on behalf of Terpstra. With 14 km to go, at the base of the final ascent of the Paterberg, the two leaders led the chase group by 0:25.
With 12 km left, the leaders’ advantage was down to 0:16. One km later, Lars Boom (Astana) jumped clear. Terpstra and Kristoff collaborated well, and extended their lead to 0:26 with five km to go.
In the last couple of km, the two leaders played cat and mouse. Terpstra forced Kristoff to take the lead, but the Norwegian did not ride all out. The Katusha man led going into the last km, and the pursuit closed in. In the last 500 m, Van Avermaet chased furiously, but Kristoff stayed calm. Eventually, Terpstra jumped him, but Kristoff held him off for the win.
Kristoff understood what to do during the final stages of the race. “I was a little bit nervous at the end when Niki stopped working,” he said. “I was afraid the group behind us would catch us, so I just kept up a high speed. I knew if I kept a good speed, but not 100 percent, that I could still do a good sprint. This has been a great week; it really could not be better. [Kristoff won Three Days of De Panne earlier in the week.]
"I knew to follow Niki when he went. Once we got away, we worked well together, and I convinced him to work with me to the finish, knowing the worst he would get was second place. He tried to drop me on the Kwaremont, and I was suffering there, but I’m actually quite good in these cobbled climbs. I felt I had him under control on the Paterberg, but in truth you never know. I didn’t let him go because I knew he was strong. I’m happy I managed to go with him and no one came up behind us. I’m a fast finisher so I’m happy I could win.”
Many of today’s riders, including Kristoff, will meet again at Paris-Roubaix next Sunday. How will they fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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