Alexander Kristoff’s Tour of Flanders triumph was the third in succession by a foreign rider, marking the longest drought for the home nation since Fiorenzo Magni completed his hat-trick of Ronde victories in 1951, leading to much wringing of hands in the Flemish newspapers when they appeared on Tuesday morning following the Easter break.
This being Flanders, even in his absence, Tom Boonen can't help but make headlines. Het Nieuwsblad's Ronde wrap led with a picture of Kristoff and the caption: "The new Boonen is Norwegian."
Het Laatste Nieuws, meanwhile, bemoaned a Tour of Flanders "without lustre" but applauded Kristoff as "perhaps the main classics rider of the new generation," though there was concern that the Belgian famine is set to stretch to four years: "If Boonen doesn't return quickly, we'll have a new, sad record next year."
Normally, Etixx-QuickStep's failure to win the Tour of Flanders would be cause for a detailed inquest, but instead it was Sep Vanmarcke's disappointing showing that garnered the most column inches. Widely tipped as the most likely local winner, Vanmarcke was surprisingly dropped on the Taaienberg and despite a forlorn chase, never got back into the race.
"Champagne on ice, but Vanmarcke doesn't even make the top 50," trumpeted Het Nieuwsblad, noting pointedly that "it seems as if the strong Vanmarcke of the Omloop has disappeared." Het Laatste Nieuws, meanwhile, asked: "What results did Vanmarcke actually have to earn his status [as a favourite]?"
Vanmarcke's coach Luc Wante offered a mea culpa of sorts to the newspaper. "We made a mistake. We tried to make him race less aggressively and that didn't suit him," said Wante, who also noted: "It's the press that claims he is Boonen's successor."
Wante sounded an optimistic note about Vanmarcke's prospects of turning his spring around at Paris-Roubaix next Sunday, just as he did two years ago, when he bounced back from a lacklustre Tour of Flanders to come within inches of denying Fabian Cancellara on the Roubaix velodrome. "Sep feels he has to save his season. Sunday is all or nothing," he said. "Happily Roubaix is the race that suits him the best. Attack, attack, attack – that's totally his style."
Greg Van Avermaet's third place finish was enough to spare him the kind of scrutiny faced by Vanmarcke, though not sufficient to save him from criticism altogether. "Van Avermaet played poker and lost," said Walloon newspaper La Dernière Heure, while Het Laatste Nieuws described him as "the best of the rest, but not cold-blooded enough to save his energy."
Standing in Oudenaarde's main square on Sunday evening, Patrick Lefevere had declared himself satisfied with Niki Terpstra's second place finish, reasoning that Kristoff had been the strongest man in the race. In Tuesday's newspapers, his irritation seemed reserved for his former rider Johan Museeuw, who reckoned that Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh were riding against one another in order to secure new contracts. It had also been reported that Lefevere had sent the riders an email before the race reminding them of their responsibilities.
"First and foremost, Terpstra is still under contract next year, so that's all wrong," Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad. "And I didn't send an email to the riders. The team management sent an email a day or two before the race to the riders with the tactical plan, but we do that all year round, not specifically for the Tour of Flanders. Museeuw makes claims, but he's wrong. If you don't know, then it's better to keep your mouth shut."
In the pages of Het Laatste Nieuws, meanwhile, Lefevere laughed off Bradley Wiggins' description to Cyclingnews last week of Etixx-QuickStep's riders seeming like "rabbits in the headlights" without Boonen's leadership. "Psychological warfare," Lefevere said, before indulging in some of his own: "Guys like Vandenbergh and Van Keirsbulck are not very explosive so long efforts on the Roubaix pavé are better for them. The Hell of the North will suit us better."
Lotto-Soudal's Tiesj Benoot, fifth in his debut Tour of Flanders at the age of just 21 also earned plenty of coverage, but his team have looked to reduce the attention on the economics student by clearing his week of media obligations until the squad's pre-Paris-Roubaix press conference on Friday – though with considerable excitement, it was noted that Benoot's first outing at the Ronde was significantly better than those of Boonen (24th in 2002) and Cancellara (73rd in 2003).
In the shorter term, however, solving a problem called Alexander Kristoff is vexing Flemish minds, as Het Laatste Nieuws admitted. "Who fancies going up against Kristoff in Roubaix?"