The 26-year-old Australian hit the front with 200 metres to go and had the speed to hold off Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ), André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo). Sutton became the first Australian to win the Belgian race.
“I've won a stage in the Tour Down Under but for me this is pretty big. I've always wanted to win one of the classics and it's a nice way to start with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne,” Sutton said happily.
“The boys were just incredible in the last 10 kilometres. I told the guys I was up for it. I was pretty confident in myself and the team put all their confidence in me. I just yelled: 'Go!' at 500 metres out. I then waited and waited. But at 200 metres I saw someone come up and knew I had to go. I then just went full gas.”
It was a surprising to see that Team Sky did not ride for Boasson Hagen in the sprint in Kuurne but the talented Norwegian quickly explained why the team choose to opt for Sutton.
“I did the race yesterday and he didn't so he was fresh. Everybody talked about me but we had another plan and it worked perfect. I'm really happy now,” Boasson Hagen told Cyclingnews.
Bigger-name sprinters of the calibre of Greipel and Farrar were unable to match Sutton’s fine burst of speed. Greipel blamed the lack of organization in his team. “The problem was that there was no train,” he told Cyclingnews.
Farrar admitted he made a mistake in the sprint. “I had bad luck but felt really good,” he said.
The climbs in the middle section of the race caused a lot of damage to the peloton but everything came back together in the flatter finale. Several breakaway attempts followed with Lars Ytting Bak (HTC-Highroad) making the most impressive move.
Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) also tried to avoid the sprint by joining a late attack with but the sprinters were hungry for success and pulled him back. Team Sky took control in the final two kilometres and Boasson Hagen gave Sutton a perfect lead out. The Australian then completed the job with a fine turn of speed to claim some big-name sprinter’s scalps and the biggest win of his career.
All the action
196 riders were at the start in the hippodrome in Kuurne, with only Joost Posthuma (Leopard-Trek) failing to start. After the rain on Saturday, the riders were happy to see dry roads but were worried about the strong winds.
A group of five riders escaped the peloton early on in an attempt to stay away at least until the television coverage started. The five were Edwig Cammaerts (Landbouwkrediet), Arnaud Coyot (Saur-Sojasun), Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Cervélo), Arnaud van Groen (Veranda's Willems-Accent) and Andrew Fenn (An Post-Sean Kelly).
The lead quintet quickly opened a lead of seven minutes. Fenn was dropped and was waiting for the peloton but then there was suddenly confusion up front when the four remaining leaders sneaked through a railway crossing that was about to close. They were disqualified by race officials and were out of the race.
Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) and Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) joined Fenn up front and a new break was formed. When they reaching the first climbs of the race, the three leaders had a lead of three minutes. On the day's third climb, the Kanarieberg, Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil) and Anthony Ravard (AG2R La Mondiale) sparked a counter-attack and set off in pursuit. Up front Fenn was dropped from the lead group as the riders tackled the tough cobbled Kruisberg climb.
On the Oude Kwaremont the gap was down to 2:20 as Flecha lead the peloton on the long cobbled climb. Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), Wouter Weylandt (Leopard-Trek) and Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil) followed the Spaniard, creating an interesting break. Weylandt quickly dropped back and at the end of the climb and Selvaggi was dropped as well but he caught up with Ian Stannard (Sky) who was the only rider to come up from behind. By the end of the Oude Kwaremont the two leaders had one and a half minute on four chasers: Flecha, Stannard, Boonen and Selvaggi. However, just before the Côte de Trieu the breakaway attempt was neutralized by Garmin-Cervélo, with Martijn Maaskant doing a lot of work. It was a very tactical race.
On the Trieu several attacks were launched and a group of seven leaders got away: Martin Velits (HTC-Highroad), Maxim Vantomme (Katusha), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Matthew Hayman (Sky), Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) and Sébastien Minard (AG2R La Mondiale). Just before the penultimate climb of the day, the Tiegemberg, Ladagnous and Armee were caught by seven chasers, with the peloton at one and a half minute. In the reduced peloton Quick-Step and Rabobank took up the chase.
With 45km to go, on the Nokereberg, the last climb of the day, Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) and Weylandt put the hammer down and the duo powered away as the race took yet another twist. Quick-Step quickly neutralized this attempt as a second peloton bridged back up. A few kilometres later the breakaway group was caught as well, meaning the race was all back together.
Just before hitting the two finishing circuits around Kuurne, Lars Ytting Bak (HTC-Highroad) launched a solo attempt. The former Danish champion quickly opened a lead of half a minute but the bunch refused to let him go. A counter-attack of five men failed and another by Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun), Alessandro Proni (Acqua & Sapone) and Sébastien Hinault (AG2R La Mondiale) had a hard time closing the gap. With 17km to go Bak sat up and joined this breakaway group but the peloton kept them in sight.
At the start of the second and last lap, the peloton was lead by Omega Pharma-Lotto and Team Sky. They trailed the breakaway by 14 seconds but soon closed them down.
Engoulvent was the last survivor of the attack and he was surprised to suddenly find Boonen on his wheel after he jumped across the gap after a tight corner and a crash. The move from the two-time Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne winner made the finale even more exciting for a while but proved unsuccessful as it became clear a bunch sprint was unavoidable.
When Boonen and Engoulvent were caught with two kilometres remaining, Flecha led the peloton into the last kilometre, before Boasson Hagen took over. Everyone else was left fighting for the right wheel or right line, while Sutton was able to chose his moment and finish the job for Team Sky in great style.
Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Procycling
Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) FDJ
André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo
Jonas Vangenechten (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles - Credit Agricole
Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Team Europcar
Anthony Ravard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
Adrien Petit (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
Kristof Goddaert (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Veranda's Willems - Accent