Philippe Gilbert wins Tour of Flanders after epic solo break

Belgian national champion escapes with 55km to go

Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) won the 2017 Tour of Flanders, but that simple statement doesn't even begin to tell the tale of one of the most remarkable editions in the race's history, and certainly the least predictable on the new finale over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Gilbert was alone for the final 55 kilometres of the race, having broken clear on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont – and that after being part of an elite selection that formed on the Muur 40 kilometres earlier – but that is still only part of the story.

The race will be remembered, too, for the bizarre crash that ended the challenge of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) as he gave chase on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. The world champion clipped a roadside barrier and brought down Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale).

Van Avermaet got back up and still won the sprint for second place, ahead of Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), 29 seconds down on Gilbert. It was that kind of a race, that kind of a day.

Sagan and Van Avermaet were 55 seconds behind Gilbert at the base of the Kwaremont, and the Belgian champion still had the bulk of that lead in hand even after Sagan accelerated near the summit. We will never know if Gilbert would have held out without the crash, but that detracts not one jot from his triumph. Gilbert, for his invention and his startling strength, was well worth his victory at the end of an absurd bike race.

Quick-Step wanted to avoid going toe-to-toe with Van Avermaet and Sagan in the finale, and their approach was flawless. The Muur van Geraardsbergen, back on the route after a six-year absence, proved pivotal even though the old friend was positioned some 95 kilometres from the finish. Tom Boonen, riding his final Ronde, set a fierce pace on the climb, and his effort brought a group of 14 clear, including Gilbert and Matteo Trentin. With Sagan and Van Avermaet caught behind, the Quick-Step trio didn't need a second invitation to put their shoulders to the wheel.

"It all started on the Muur. I was riding on Tom Boonen's wheel and it went on from there," Gilbert said. "We had three riders in the group and we decided to push on."

When they reached the Kwaremont 40 kilometres later, Gilbert opted to follow the same principle. He punched clear midway up the climb, and simply opted to continue alone when it was clear that nobody could come close to matching his speed.

"On the Kwaremont, I decided to go full on. I made an effort and I looked behind and I was alone," Gilbert said. "So I just went on from there." As simple and as brutally complicated as that.

There was, eventually, a general regrouping behind, though, as ever, the Ronde proved an elimination race. Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Luke Rowe (Sky) were thwarted by crashes, and Boonen by a mechanical mishap on, of all places, the Taaienberg.

With 35 kilometres to go, the race finally seemed to be settling into its anticipated script, as Sagan and Van Avermaet went clear over the Taaienberg in a chasing group that swelled to include Van Baarle, Naesen, Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert), Trentin and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), and this septet hit the base of the Kwaremont for the final time just under a minute down on Gilbert.

When Sagan took up the reins near the top, only Van Avermaet and Naesen could follow, but in an instant, their already guttering hopes were extinguished. Sagan struck a barrier at the roadside – it seemed as his bike was hooked by a billowing advertising banner – and Van Avermaet and Naesen came down with him. Van Avermaet remounted immediately, while Sagan waited for a replacement bike, knowing his chance of a repeat Ronde was gone.

Up ahead, Gilbert betrayed his first signs of suffering on the Paterberg, where he struggled to keep his gear turning over, but he crested the summit with 50 seconds in hand on a chase group made up of Van Baarle, a bloodied Van Avermaet and his Quick-Step teammate Niki Terpstra, who came from a long, long way back to bridge up.

At that point, Gilbert looked every inch the winner, but the ferocity of Van Avermaet's pursuit, allied to a stiff headwind, made for a nervous spell around the 5km-to-go banner, when seconds began crumbling off his advantage.

By the flamme rouge, however, Gilbert had steadied the ship, and he could sit up and celebrate his win as he pedalled up the long finishing straight in Oudenaarde. On crossing the line, Gilbert stepped off his bike and lifted it over his head. It was a wonder he had the strength to do so.

Behind, Van Avermaet out-sprinted Terpstra and Van Baarle for second, coming home 28 seconds down. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) came home 52 seconds down in fifth, ahead of Sacha Modolo (UAE-Emirates) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).


"I was aiming for the win but it didn't work out," Van Avermaet said. "On the Muur I was a bit far behind and I didn't see what happened when that group went past. I was riding a very strong race and we were chasing very hard, but some people weren't contributing to the chase. It was better when we got to the final - once you get away there, you can take some time back. But Phil had a minute by then, and it was very hard."

Gilbert hadn't raced the Ronde since 2012, as BMC had preferred to deploy him in the Ardennes to give Van Avermaet sole leadership on the cobbles. On signing him for Quick-Step Floors during the off-season, Patrick Lefevere had no misgivings about adding another potential leader to his Ronde line-up. He clasped Gilbert in a hug by the podium. "Mamma mia," Gilbert said.

How it unfolded

The 101st edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen was the start of a new era, as Antwerp hosted the start of Vlaanderens Mooiste for the first time, after 19 years in Bruges. Pleasant spring sunshine and thick crowds greeted the riders in the Grote Markt, where Boonen, on the verge of his retirement, was feted with the ‘Viking clap' celebration popularised by Iceland's supporters at Euro 2016 last summer.

The early break ghosted off the front surprisingly early, with Mark McNally (Wanty-Gobert), Oliviero Troia (UAE Emirates), Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Michael Goolaerts (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Julien Morice (Direct Energie), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and André Looij (Roompot) forging clear in the opening kilometres and opening a maximum lead of twelve minutes.

From there, BMC and Bora-Hansgrohe took the initiative to keep the octet under control, with the pace in the peloton eventually rising after the first ascent of the Kwaremont, with 144 kilometres to go. A number of nervous crashes took place, too, as the peloton bottlenecked on narrow roads, with Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) among the victims.

The eight leaders reached the Muur van Geraardsbergen with a lead of more than five minutes, but all eyes were on the main peloton, where Tom Boonen was setting the tempo. The Muur, back in the race after a six-year absence, may have been a long way from the finish – some 95 kilometres – but it proved to be a pivotal moment in the race. Boonen's forcing split the peloton into several groups and when the dust settled, the Belgian was joined by teammates Gilbert and Matteo Trentin in an elite 14-man selection that also contained Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Luke Rowe and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Bryan Coquard, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Sacha Modolo (UAE Emirates).

The big absentees were Sagan and Van Avermaet, and they trailed by 1:10 when the Boonen-Gilbert group caught the early break with 67 kilometres remaining. Boonen and Trentin were particularly active on the front, eager to ensure they stayed clear until the second ascent of the Kwaremont, knowing that no one team would be able to marshal a chase on the succession of hills that followed.

They had 35 seconds in hand at the base of Oude Kwaremont, where, with 55 kilometres remaining, Gilbert went clear alone, dropping Vanmarcke and the others. By the top, the Belgian champion was 56 seconds clear of the peloton, and he opted not to wait for company.

The race, initially slow-burning was now fully ignited. On the fast descent before the Paterberg, Vanmarcke crashed and brought Bodnar and Rowe down with him. On the Paterberg, Sagan, Van Avermaet were to the fore, and their efforts helped the the peloton to bridge back up to the Boonen group.

Come the foot of the Koppenberg, Gilbert had a lead of 55 seconds on the main group, an advantage he maintained over the Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg, but again, the drama was behind. The climb, nicknamed the 'Boonenberg,' marked the end of Boonen's challenge. A chain problem forced him to stop for a bike change, and when his replacement machine also proved problematic, he knew his chances had disappeared.

At the head of the group, meanwhile, Sagan launched his first telling acceleration, and only Naesen, Van Avermaet, Trentin and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) could follow, and they caught earlier attackers Van Baarle and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) over the top. They were a minute down on Gilbert over the Kruisberg, and the situation remained static until they reached the Kwaremont, where, suddenly and dramatically, this most incredible Tour of Flanders took on another guise.

Monuments man

Touchingly, Gilbert dedicated his victory to the late Claude Criquielion, who was the last Walloon to win the Tour of Flanders, 30 years ago. "I thought about him a lot on this special day," said Gilbert.

His 2012 world title notwithstanding, Gilbert had seemed in steady decline since his startling 2011 campaign, but at 34 years of age, the Belgian has somehow conjured up the greatest performance of his career. After the Tour of Lombardy (2009 and 2010) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he has now won three of cycling's Monuments, and he vowed to try to complete the set.

"I want to win all five," he said. "I've gone close at Milan-San Remo and I'll have to test myself at Paris-Roubaix, but my career is far from over and I want to realise this dream." 

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors6:23:45 
2Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:00:29 
3Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors  
4Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac  
5Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:53 
6Sacha Modolo (Ita) Team UAE Emirates  
7John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo  
8Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Wilier Triestina  
9Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie  
10Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
11Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Astana Pro Team  
12Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-Scott  
13Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors  
14Yoann Offredo (Fra) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
15Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky  
16Scott Thwaites (GBr) Dimension Data  
17Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal  
18Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team  
19Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo0:01:01 
20André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal0:02:29 
21Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin  
22Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data  
23Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale0:02:32 
24Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac  
25Alexander Edmonson (Aus) Orica-Scott0:03:30 
26Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie  
27Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe  
28Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb  
29Pim Ligthart (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
30Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott  
31Julien Duval (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
32Matti Breschel (Den) Astana Pro Team  
33Marco Marcato (Ita) Team UAE Emirates  
34Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ  
35Julien Vermote (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
36Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
37Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
38Boy Van Poppel (Ned) Trek-Segafredo  
39Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
40Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
41Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
42Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin  
43Luka Pibernik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
44Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
45Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale  
46Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
47Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
48Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
49Silvan Dillier (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
50Eugert Zhupa (Alb) Wilier Triestina  
51Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo  
52Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Cannondale-Drapac  
53Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
54Huub Duyn (Ned) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
55Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
56Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ  
57Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo  
58Bram Tankink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
59Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data  
60Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Katusha-Alpecin  
61Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
62Gaetan Bille (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan0:03:35 
63Alex Turrin (Ita) Wilier Triestina  
64Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky0:03:36 
65Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie  
66Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe  
67Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors  
68Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Bahrain-Merida0:04:15 
69Sam Bewley (NZl) Orica-Scott0:04:32 
70Olivier Le Gac (Fra) FDJ0:06:59 
71Mark Mcnally (GBr) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
72Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac  
73Michael Morkov (Den) Katusha-Alpecin  
74Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb0:08:02 
75Koen De Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo  
76Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
77Federico Zurlo (Ita) Team UAE Emirates0:08:35 
78Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Team Sunweb  
79Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team  
80Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
81Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Sunweb  
82Ryan Mullen (Irl) Cannondale-Drapac  
83Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
84Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
85Antoine Duchesne (Can) Direct Energie  
86Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team  
87Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team  
88Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
89Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team  
90Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Sunweb  
91Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica-Scott  
92Mitch Docker (Aus) Orica-Scott  
93Wesley Kreder (Ned) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
94Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
95Julien Morice (Fra) Direct Energie  
96Mickael Delage (Fra) FDJ  
97Lars Boom (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
98Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
99Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team  
100Stijn Steels (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
101Dries De Bondt (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
102Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky0:11:31 
103Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La Mondiale  
104Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Dimension Data  
105Twan Castelijns (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
106Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky  
107Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo  
108Owain Doull (GBr) Team Sky  
109Stijn Devolder (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
110Tom Scully (NZl) Cannondale-Drapac  
111Rudy Barbier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
112Juraj Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe  
113Rafael Andriato (Bra) Wilier Triestina  
114Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
115Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
116Amund Grondahl Jansen (Nor) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
117Yohann Gene (Fra) Direct Energie  
118Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Direct Energie  
119Gregory Rast (Swi) Trek-Segafredo  
120Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky  
121Tyler Farrar (USA) Dimension Data  
DNFJonathan Diebben (GBr) Team Sky  
DNFLiam Bertazzo (Ita) Wilier Triestina  
DNFNick Dougall (RSA) Dimension Data  
DNFJurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFStef Van Zummeren (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFMichael Goolaerts (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFJay Robert Thomson (RSA) Dimension Data  
DNFCoen Vermeltfoort (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFCarlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Movistar Team  
DNFJorge Arcas Peña (Spa) Movistar Team  
DNFHéctor Carretero (Spa) Movistar Team  
DNFBrian Van Goethem (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFLuka Mezgec (Slo) Orica-Scott  
DNFNuno Matos (Por) Movistar Team  
DNFAlex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team  
DNFYoucef Reguigui (Alg) Dimension Data  
DNFNico Denz (Ger) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFTony Martin (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFHugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFChristophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFRick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFMarco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFJens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFAlexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFCyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFLukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFOscar Gatto (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
DNFNikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFDmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
DNFZhandos Bizhigitov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
DNFGediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFGiuseppe Fonzi (Ita) Wilier Triestina  
DNFOtto Vergaerde (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFMatteo Draperi (Ita) Wilier Triestina  
DNFSalvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky  
DNFMichaël Van Staeyen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFBorut Bozic (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFLoic Chetout (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFMarko Kump (Slo) Team UAE Emirates  
DNFIon Ander Insausti Irastorza (Spa) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFPhil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Sunweb  
DNFTaylor Phinney (USA) Cannondale-Drapac  
DNFBert De Backer (Bel) Team Sunweb  
DNFKenneth Van Rooy (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
DNFSep Vanmarcke (Bel) Cannondale-Drapac  
DNFZico Waeytens (Bel) Team Sunweb  
DNFKenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFAndrea Guardini (Ita) Team UAE Emirates  
DNFMarc Sarreau (Fra) FDJ  
DNFVegard Stake Laengen (Nor) Team UAE Emirates  
DNFBerden De Vries (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFJesper Asselman (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFOliviero Troia (Ita) Team UAE Emirates  
DNFFrancisco Jose Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) BMC Racing Team  
DNFManuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
DNFMartin Elmiger (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
DNFSander Cordeel (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFSimone Consonni (Ita) Team UAE Emirates  
DNFMarcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto Soudal  
DNFNiccolo' Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFRomain Cardis (Fra) Direct Energie  
DNFElmar Reinders (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFChun Kai Feng (Tpe) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFMeiyin Wang (Chn) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFAndreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFAndre Looij (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFEdward Planckaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
DNFJos Van Emden (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
DNFTiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFSteven Lammertink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
DNFMaarten Wynants (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
DNFJasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFJacopo Guarnieri (Ita) FDJ  
DNFJohan Le Bon (Fra) FDJ  
DNFIgnatas Konovalovas (Ltu) FDJ  
DNFTaco Van Der Hoorn (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFRüdiger Selig (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNSJens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-Scott  

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