Tour of Flanders - Race debrief

A closer look at the critical points

Race:Tour of Flanders (WorldTour)
Date: April 1, 2018
Distance: 265km
Weather: Rain, turning dry in the final hour

Podium: 1st Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors).

Winner's quote: "For some reason, sometimes I'm given a hard time in Flanders. Hopefully, I've stolen a few more cycling hearts in Belgium."

Critical point: It would be slightly short-sighted to focus on the race-winning attack in isolation. However, Terpstra's acceleration, as he ghosted up to Vincenzo Nibali on the crest of the Kruisberg, and then soloed away from the Italian on the tarmacked surface of the Hotond, defined the race. As decisive as that moment was, it could have counted for little had the Quick-Step rider not nullified the leaders on the Kwaremont. If the capture of Pedersen, Langeveld and Van Baarle had taken place after the Kwaremont, rather than on it, then the race would have developed in very different manner. In that scenario, the trio would have sat on Terpstra for as long as possible, forcing him to set the pace until he either attacked again or was told to sit up and wait for reinforcements before the Paterberg. Terpstra had the legs and the execution, but he also had timing on his side. It was an all-around masterclass.

Final kilometre: The long and flat run-in to the line offered a panoramic view of several groups fighting for the second and third steps of the podium. Terpstra had more than enough time to savour his win, Pedersen dug in to take second, while Gilbert out-kicked Valgren for third.

Early break: After 70 kilometres of racing Filippo Ganna (UAE Team Emirates), Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida), Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data), Pascal Eenkhoorn (LottoNL-Jumbo), Aimé De Gendt (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Michael Goolaerts (Veranda's Willems-Crelan), Dimitri Peyskens (WB Aqua Protect-Veranclassic), Pim Ligthart and Floris Gerts (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Jimmy Turgis (Cofidis) and Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) jump clear.

Unsung hero: As ever, the Tour of Flanders was littered with impressive rides. From Keisse and Declercq controlling the peloton for much of the early phases, Vanmarcke and Naesen battling back from falls and mechanicals, Nibali having the guts to at least try and attack, and Pedersen putting in a valiant ride to take second place. However, Ivan Garcia Cortina deserves special praise. The 22-year-old Spaniard bossed the early-break and was still in the fray with 200km under his belt. He may have 'only' finished 37th but it was a highly commendable ride for a second-year pro. Bahrain-Merida may be labelled – usually fairly – as an ageing team but they still have the odd young talent to keep things interesting.

Most aggressive rider: Aggression can take many forms in a race. Peter Sagan made two late attacks, Mads Pedersen was part of two assaults, while Nibali and Van Avermaet all landed blows. However, successful aggression is about channelling effort in the correct manner. A number of riders attacked but only Terpstra had the power to make it stick. A dangerous-looking group containing Stybar, Nibali, Sagan and Kwiatkowski had slipped clear moments before Nibali's main assault but they were all put in the shade by Terpstra's attack. It was a similar move to his attack in the 2015 edition of the race but the telling feature this time around was that he was alone. Three years ago, Kristoff won the race by hanging onto Terpstra's coattails, but this time the Dutchman was far more clinical.

Unluckiest rider:  While there were a number of crashes, and untimely, mechanicals, Luke Rowe was in a league of his own when it came to a lack of good fortune. The rules surrounding riders using the pavement in the Classics has always been open to both interpretation and application. During Flanders, there were several instances of riders hopping onto the curb in order to take smoother lines and effectively save energy. If Rowe was to be punished for doing likewise, then he should not have been the sole villain. In this particular case, it wasn't just the application of the rule that caused the issue. Rowe wasn't looking to gain an advantage when he switched his line before a tight right-hand corner. He was clearly trying to avoid crashing into both static riders and a crowd of spectators. He made a split-second decision - and surely the right one – to avoid injuring himself and others, come to a standstill and then carefully make his way back into the field. Race officials have a difficult job, and as with most sporting officialdom, it's the one per cent of wrong decisions that generate outcry and rage, rather than the 99 per cent of correct calls. Disqualifying Rowe was an error and one that could have easily been avoided.

Talking point: There were several relating to Quick-Step's domination and the lack of form shown by Sagan and Van Avermaet but the leading question now turns to whether anyone or anything can stop Quick-Step at Paris-Roubaix next weekend. Roubaix is a different race to Flanders; one in which it's harder to ride the opposition off your wheel. Of course, Lefevere's men remain the favourites, but if they can be isolated and miss the main break they will be forced to chase. The responsibility for such a tactic doesn't fall on the likes of a Sagan or Van Avermaet, but their second-string support, such as Bodnar and Bettiol, especially given that Schar and Oss will not be given any freedom. The weather will be important but generally, Roubaix is more open, the break can stay away, a feature that's rarely seen in Flanders.

Expert says: "With those weather conditions the race panned out how I expected, with numbers in the finale the key factor. When Quick-Step went it was perfect timing and once again they had the strength to then block their rivals. The race didn't split as much as I expected but what's stood out this year is that although Quick-Step have depth there's no stand-out rider. In the past, we've seen two or three riders above the rest and the others haven't been able to follow. If you're looking for a standout rider of the year, it's Valverde, but on the cobbles, it's been more about strength in depth and then certain riders taking the initiative. Quick-Step really doesn't go into races with one leader, and that's a good tactic when you've got a team like theirs. If you set yourself up with one contender, then you risk losing out due to mechanical, the weather, or bad luck. In a sense, the Quick-Step guys are racing against each other." Matt White.

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