Imanol Erviti was an unlikely protagonist at the Tour of Flanders as the Spanish rider recorded the best ever result at the Belgian monument for Movistar with seventh place. Erviti rode his first De Ronde back in 2005 and has ridden every single edition of the race since with 55th his previous best result.
The 32-year-old was one of six-riders who established the breakaway after 70km of racing and would be the last man standing as he latched onto the group of the big favourites and finished in the bunch behind the podium trio of Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke to become the second Spaniard with a top-ten result to his name.
"How do I feel? Tired! [He laughs] Today has been like a testimonial for me, riding at the front on the Muurs, with so many people at the roadside enjoying the atmosphere... it was incredible," Erviti said in a team release. "A great feeling, wonderful. I enjoyed myself. But it was a maximum effort. When Sagan, Kwiatkowski and Vanmarcke bridged across to us from the rear, they were going very fast and I could only try to stay with them and ride my own race intelligently."
Erviti came into the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders having helped Nairo Quintana to the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya title late-last month and explained he started the race with little ambition or expectation.
"Until the last moment, I didn't think it feasible to be fighting for a top-ten place or achieving a good result in general," he said. "It was an ambition, but until the top of the Paterberg I wasn't confident, not because I wasn't capable of it, but because I had used up so much energy, and behind they were coming up very fast and it is always difficult. In Flanders, the race always comes from behind, and I thought it would be unlikely."
While Sagan was soloing to the victory with Cancellara and Vanmarcke trying to bring the world champion back, Erviti was in the chase group for fourth place and added that only then did he start to dream.
"After that last climb, where I was with Terpstra and the group including Kristoff caught us, I began to hope," said the multiple stage winner at the Vuelta a Espana. "In the sprint, I gave it everything. I thought I could get past [Dylan] Van Baarle for 6th place, but I had pretty bad cramp and I could barely turn the pedals.
"I have a long journey home now and I want to get back to my family, hug my wife and son, and thank all the people who help and support me, who have made it possible for me to achieve this result: team-mates, the race director, everyone. It is wonderful to have experienced this.
Erviti's next monument is Liège-Bastogne-Liège where he and Movistar will aim to replicate its victory with Alejandro Valverde on April 24.
"Now it is time to rest, savour the result, and turn my thoughts to the Ardennes with Alejandro [Valverde]. They are important races for us and I want to do my job well," he said.