John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) finished a bike-length back in second place, while Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) continued his effervescent spring form by taking third.
Kristoff, who won the Tour of Flanders solo in 2015, launched his sprint early after riding the Jumbo-Visma train in the final kilometre. Jumping to the wheel of Adrien Petit (Direct Énergie), he hit the wind with 250 metres to go and had no equal in the race to the line.
It was a sprint finish that had looked far from inevitable for much of the day, with the peloton shattering in the crosswinds during the first hour. A large group including Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) got away after 50km of furious racing, eventually whittling down until the escapees were brought back with 20km to race.
The flat run-in was commanded by the sprinters' teams, including the well-represented Deceuninck-QuickStep, who were keen to keep it together until Wevelgem. Attacks flew in the final 15km, but it was impossible to escape the inevitability of a bunch sprint.
After a group of four attackers were finally caught in the final kilometre, it was Jumbo-Visma who led out the sprint. Kristoff appeared from behind the wheels to launch himself from long to take his second win of the season.
"Fernando [Gaviria] did a great race and was in the front all day, but he told me in the last 10km that he didn't feel good," Kristoff said after the finish. "So he said, 'OK, go for the sprint yourself', because normally I would lead him out.
"I found a good wheel and at the end I was the strongest in the sprint. It's a huge victory for me and it kind of saved my spring. I can see my shape is coming good for Flanders. This is slightly easier than Flanders, but to get this victory - it's one of the biggest victories in my career."
The wind, and of course, the climbs, had a big effect on the race, with Kristoff mentioning how his team's tactics were adjusted as a result.
"I was in the second group and we had Fernando in front," he said. "It was good racing by him to stay in front so we could take it easier in the back I knew Kemmelberg would be crucial, so I tried to attack and anticipate it before. I managed to come in the front over Kemmelberg, and I knew I was safe, being in the first group.
"But of course I was tired. It was a hard day from the start, but I saw everybody was really on the limit, so I knew I always have a good sprint when everybody is tired."
How it unfolded
The 175 riders at the start in chilly Deinze rolled away from the market square to start the race, but they wouldn't be together for much longer. During the first hour of racing, the peloton powered through crosswinds towards the Belgian coast. When turning left at Gistel towards the coastal town of Nieuwpoort the peloton split into several groups.
The star-studded first group was 20 strong. Several teams had multiple riders in the move, including Peter Sagan, Pascal Ackermann and Rüdiger Selig for Bora-Hansgrohe; Wout van Aert, Maarten Wynants, Mike Teunissen, Taco van der Hoorn and Danny van Poppel for Jumbo-Visma; John Degenkolb, Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns for Trek-Segafredo.
Other riders to make the break were European champion Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Dutch champion Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Jan Willem van Schip (Roompot-Charles), Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Nokere Koerse winner Cees Bol (Team Sunweb) and Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Before turning away from the coast and into a favourable tailwind, Jumbo-Visma lost Van der Hoorn and Van Poppel from the front after Van Poppel suffered a mechanical. Even with the loss of two riders, the leaders blasted through De Moeren at over 60km/h [the first two hours were raced at 52km/h], extending their advantage from 50 seconds to 1:20.
Heading towards the French border and the first climbs of the day, Lotto Soudal and CCC Team took control of the peloton, and the gap slowly started to come back down again.
With a first passage over the Baneberg and Kemmelberg, the lead group started to fall apart. First Van Schip dropped, followed by Selig, Ackermann, Declercq, Degenkolb and Wynants.
Accelerations in the peloton from in-form Zdenek Štybar, Yves Lampaert (both Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) on the Kemmelberg and Monteberg reduced the advantage for the 12 remaining leaders to 35 seconds with 70km left to race.
Cooperation among those 12 leaders vanished on the wide roads following the Kemmelberg, and suddenly only Sagan, Teunissen, Trentin and Theuns remained out front. The quartet hit the first 'plugstreet' gravel section 59km from the finish 45 seconds ahead of 'peloton', which at that point consisted of less than 40 riders.
The gap remained the same over the following gravel sections, but soon afterwards, at 52km from the finish, Luke Rowe (Team Sky) put in an impressive effort to solo across the gap.
Perhaps inspired by Lowe making it up to the lead group, Kristoff clipped off the front of the chasers with 41km to go. He was midway to the leaders by the Baneberg, while over the top Van Aert and Van der Poel attacked with another 'cross champion - Zdenek Štybar - closing the move down.
Jumbo-Visma then took to the head of the peloton. Not to work though, with their man Teunissen up front. They acted as a rolling roadblock as the gap edged back up over 50 seconds.
On the final climb of the race, the Kemmelberg, Trentin put the pressure on in the lead group as Sagan looked to struggle. Further back, Štybar and Van Aert attacked, catching Kristoff before the trio were dragged back.
Heading into the final 30km, the five-man lead group was 35 seconds up the road, with sprinters Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) lurking in the chase group.
The QuickStep trio of Štybar, Lampaert and Gilbert duly went to work for their sprinter, bringing the gap down to 20 seconds by Ypres and the famous Menin Gate. It was over for the break shortly after, with the five men absorbed with 19km to race.
On the flat run-in, which saw the riders belted by crosswinds, short-lived attacks from Niki Terpstra (Direct Énergie), Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) demonstrated how hard it would be to break away from the group. With a number of teams interested in keeping things together for a sprint finish, it would take something special to get away.
A small group clipped off with 6km to go, with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-Scott), Amund Grøndahl Jansen (Jumbo-Visma) and Langeveld going on the attack. They hung out front until the final kilometre, when Deceuninck-Quick Step's superdomestiques took over.
But, as was the case last spring, it once again wouldn't be Viviani's race. The Italian was nowhere in the final sprint. Instead, it was Kristoff who prevailed, his powerful sprint proving unmatchable.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates||5:26:08|
|2||John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo|
|3||Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|4||Mathieu Van Der Poel (Ned) Corendon-Circus|
|5||Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|6||Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie|
|7||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott|
|8||Rüdiger Selig (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|9||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|10||Jens Debusschere (Bel) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|11||Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|12||Carlos Barbero (Spa) Movistar Team|
|13||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|14||Anthony Turgis (Fra) Direct Energie|
|15||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|16||Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-Fdj|
|17||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|18||Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky|
|19||Elia Viviani (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step|
|20||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team|
|21||Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Col) UAE Team Emirates|
|22||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick-Step|
|23||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Direct Energie|
|24||Amund Grøndahl Jansen (Nor) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|25||Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|26||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) EF Education First|
|27||Marco Haller (Aut) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|28||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|29||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma||0:00:07|
|30||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma||0:00:08|
|31||Jack Bauer (NZl) Mitchelton-Scott||0:00:11|
|32||Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:13|
|33||Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo||0:00:23|
|34||Damien Gaudin (Fra) Direct Energie||0:00:24|
|35||Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Deceuninck - Quick-Step||0:01:19|
|36||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:01:38|
|37||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||0:03:30|
|38||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team||0:05:28|
|39||Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:08:45|
|40||Roy Jans (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|41||Boy Van Poppel (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|42||Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|43||Davide Ballerini (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|44||Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Groupama-Fdj|
|45||Cees Bol (Ned) Team Sunweb|
|46||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|47||Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|48||Damien Touze (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|49||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-Fdj|
|50||Edward Planckaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|51||Maximilian Richard Walscheid (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|52||Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team|
|53||Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|54||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|55||Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) Team Sky|
|56||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Dimension Data|
|57||Lars Boom (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|58||Dries De Bondt (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|59||Silvan Dillier (Swi) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|60||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Movistar Team|
|61||Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|62||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|63||Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick-Step|
|64||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) CCC Team|
|65||Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|66||Michael Schär (Swi) CCC Team|
|67||Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-Fdj|
|68||Nico Denz (Ger) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|69||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|70||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott|
|71||Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|72||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|73||Clement Venturini (Fra) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|74||Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky|
|75||Tom Scully (NZl) EF Education First|
|76||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky||0:08:53|
|77||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick-Step||0:08:55|
|78||Franklin Six (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|DNF||Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) CCC Team|
|DNF||Stijn Steels (Bel) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) CCC Team|
|DNF||Szymon Sajnok (Pol) CCC Team|
|DNF||Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg)|
|DNF||Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Deceuninck - Quick-Step|
|DNF||Sjoerd Van Ginneken (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Moreno Hofland (Ned) EF Education First|
|DNF||Simon Sellier (Fra) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First|
|DNF||Jan Willem Van Schip (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Julius Van Den Berg (Ned) EF Education First|
|DNF||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Logan Owen (USA) EF Education First|
|DNF||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First|
|DNF||Jesper Asselman (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Zhandos Bizhigitov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Hugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Julien Duval (Fra) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Adam Blythe (GBr) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Pawel Bernas (Pol) CCC Team|
|DNF||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Brian Van Goethem (Ned) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Lawrence Naesen (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Senne Leysen (Bel) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Luka Pibernik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Jan Tratnik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Eduard Prades Reverter (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Bagdonas Gediminas (Ltu) Ag2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Jimmy Janssens (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Hector Carretero (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Casper Phillip Pedersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Florian Stork (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Koen De Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Alex Frame (NZl) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Tom Wirtgen (Lux) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|DNF||Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Justin Jules (Fra) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|DNF||Oliviero Troia (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Lukas Spengler (Swi) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|DNF||Asbjørn Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Aime De Gendt (Bel) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Tom Devriendt (Bel) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Milan Menten (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Kenneth Van Rooy (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Jordi Warlop (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Kenny Dehaes (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|DNF||Lionel Taminiaux (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|DNF||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) Groupama-Fdj|
|DNF||Pim Ligthart (Ned) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Miles Scotson (Aus) Groupama-Fdj|
|DNF||Mathieu Burgaudeau (Fra) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Edoardo Affini (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Callum Scotson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Jorge Arcas (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Taco Van Der Hoorn (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|DNF||Jaime Castrillo Zapater (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Groupama-Fdj|
|DNF||Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Julien Vermote (Bel) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Filippo Fortin (Ita) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Zico Waeytens (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Harry Tanfield (GBr) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Mads Schmidt Würtz (Den) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Willem Jakobus Smit (RSA) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Leonardo Basso (Ita) Team Sky|
|DNF||Christopher Lawless (GBr) Team Sky|
|DNF||Filippo Ganna (Ita) Team Sky|
|DNF||Lars Bak Ytting (Den) Team Dimension Data|