Alberto Bettiol took a well-deserved solo victory and the first win of his career at the Tour of Flanders, going on the attack on the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont, with 17km and then holding off all the big-name chasers.
The EF Education First rider dug deep on the flat final 14km to the finish alone as his rivals hesitated and chased each other, allowing the 25-year-old Tuscan to finish alone.
Dane Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) stayed clear after launching a late chase to finish 14 second down on Bettiol, with Alexander Kristoff winning the sprint for third place at 17 seconds.
As predicted, the Tour of Flanders was a high-speed tactical race that saw a number of attacks and entertaining racing. 2018 winner Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) crashed out early, while Deceuninck-QuickStep was unable to boss the race as they had done early in the spring. Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) was strong. He crashed at speed after a puncture but fought his way back and managed to finish fourth.
Incredibly it was Bettiol's first professional victory but it should be remembered he finished third on the uphill finish at Tirreno-Adriatico to Pomerance, was second in the final time trial and then attacked on the Poggio at MIlan-San Remo. He was also fourth at last week's E3 BinckBank Classic.
He had revealed to Cyclingnews how he had rediscovered his mojo after returning to EF Education after a season at BMC. He praised his teammates as he struggled to believed he had won the Tour of Flanders.
"I still can't believe it," Bettiol said. "I still don't believe what I did. My first win… I don't believe it…"
"I don't know how I did it. I felt really good on the Kwaremont and Andreas (Klier) from the car said: 'If you can, just go.' I closed my eyes and went. I looked down at the top and had a really good gap. They said 'keep pushing, keep pushing.' On the Paterberg I don’t think I lost a lot and then it was the longest 14km of my life.
"I knew Sebastian (Langeveld) was there protecting me. Seb (Vanmarke) did an amazing job too; a champion like him worked for us all day. It was just crazy. All the guys, Matti (Breschel), Sacha (Modolo), Tom (Scully), Taylor (Phinney), everybody. I think EF was in the front all day.
"We showed we can win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. From now on you (people) should look out more for the pink in the front."
How it unfolded
Massive crowds welcomed the 175 riders at the start line in sunny Antwerp early on Sunday, with riders and fans ready to enjoy the sunny, windless day of racing.
The long breakaway move kicked off shortly after leaving the Antwerp province, featuring Hugo Houle (Astana), Damien Touzé (Cofidis) and Kenneth van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise). Jesper Asselman (Roompot-Charles) soon bridge up solo thus creating a four-man lead group.
After passing through Sint-Niklaas the four leaders started riding away as the peloton took a mass natural break; a closed railway crossing added another minute to their lead. When passing through Berlare, 2019 official village of the Ronde, the gap climbed to over eight minutes and that was the sign for Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Pascal Eenkhoorn (Jumbo-Visma) to start working in the peloton.
The Oude Kwaremont was the first of 17 climbs at 150km from the finish but shortly before the first of three times over the legendary climb, a low-speed crash took out defending champion Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie). He was later diagnosed with concussion.
As the riders tackled eight climbs in 50km, the gap to the break came down rapidly to one minute when arriving at the famous Muur in Geraardsbergen. The peloton split into two parts at the Muur, sparking the first moment of panic in the peloton. The high speed meant it was a battle to get back on to the front peloton.
At 92km from the finish, the four leaders were caught back by a star-studded group. In no time, the main peloton was trailing that first group by a minute. Lotto-Soudal, AG2R La Mondiale and Katusha-Alpecin worked to bring the gap back down while Belgian champion Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Matti Breschel (EF Education First), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) briefly rode away in front. No one team, including Deceuninck-QuickStep could control the racing.
Despite several attacks, the CCC Team-led peloton remained together until Berchem, approaching the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. Things were about to get a lot more intense. It was here that pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) tried to hop over a traffic island, punctured and then went over the handlebars as he tried to signal he need a new wheel. He held his shoulder and lost a lot of time but refused to throw in the towel.
Belgian riders Stijn Vandenbergh (AG2R La Mondiale) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) rode away from the peloton at the foot of the the 2200 metres long cobbled Oude Kwaremont. By the time they reached the top of the nearby Paterberg, they were joined by Deceuninck-QuickStep's impressive 24-year-old Kasper Asgreen. At 50km from the finish, the three leaders had a lead of 15 seconds on the peloton and 45 seconds on a group with Van der Poel. Vanmarcke had played down his chances after a nasty crash in the E3 BinckBank Classic but played a vital role for EF Education First.
On the Koppenberg, Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky) rode away from the peloton while Van der Poel bridged back up to the tail-end of the stretched out peloton just in time. Van Baarle joined the leaders just before the cobbles of the Mariaborrestraat and the following Steenbeekdries climb. Double Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Stijn Devolder (Corendon-Circus) led Van der Poel and the rest of the peloton to the Taaienberg. The race was on a knife edge as the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) waited on the wheels.
Surprisingly Deceuninck-QuickStep lacked numbers and Philippe Gilbert was distanced. Zdenek Stybar was suffering and only Bob Jungels and Asgreen looked strong.
At 30km from the finish, the three remaining leaders rode towards the long Kruisberg - Hotond climb with a bonus of half a minute on a disorganised peloton, where Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) was forced to make a bike switch.
The Kruisberg is 2.5km and sparked a real selection. Van Baarle upped forcing Vanmarcke and Asgreen to go deep to catch him. Behind Stybar cracked and was distanced as Jungels upped the pace. He set a painful pace but some how Van der Poel was back up front. So too were Sagan, Valverde, van Avermaet and Kristoff.
Vanmarcke was swept up on the lower slopes of the Oude Kwaremont as the chasers closed in on Van Baarle. Sagan showed his nose near the front but was riding a more cautious race, perhaps unsure of his form.
There were 17km to race as the Kwaremont gradient eased and Bettiol used it as a launch pad. He spun his legs on the tough cobbled surface and suddenly opened a gap on the rest. He fearlessly lined them out, even making Sagan suffer, soon blasting past van Baarle.
Jens Keukeleire (Lotto Soudal) lead the chase and van Avermaet was generous too but Bettiol got away.
He went all in on the fast main road, tucked in an aero position as he rode towards the Paterberg, the final climb. There were just 15 quality riders in the chase group but none committed to the chase, giving Bettiol a 30-second gift. Langeveld also didsome superb blocking for his teammate.
Bettiol suffered on the Paterberg but did not crack. It was his rivals who were on their limit. On the 14km to Oudenaarde, he switched to time trial mode but the chase behind was unorganised, with solo attacks disrupting affairs and boosting Bettiol’s chances.
He kept his lead to 20 seconds and in the final five kilometres the others began to think about the podium spots, racing each other, rather than chasing Bettiol – his solo strength was better than their rivalry.
Sagan made one last effort to inspire the chase but the others failed to join him. Bettiol turned into the long finishing straight and began to realise he was about to win the Tour of Flanders. He surged up the barriers but had his celebrations ready. It was his first-ever road race win but celebrated in style, the same style he had shown with his solo attack and solo drive to the finish.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First||6:18:49|
|2||Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:00:14|
|3||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:17|
|4||Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Corendon-Circus|
|5||Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin|
|6||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|7||Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|8||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team|
|9||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|10||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team|
|11||Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|12||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|13||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|14||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|15||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) EF Education First|
|16||Bob Jungels (Lux) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|17||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|18||Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky||0:00:24|
|19||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||0:01:19|
|20||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:58|
|21||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott|
|22||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team|
|23||Damien Gaudin (Fra) Direct Energie||0:02:15|
|24||Ivan Garcia (Spa) Bahrain-Merida||0:02:18|
|25||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First||0:02:20|
|26||Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie|
|27||Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky|
|28||Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|29||John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo|
|30||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|31||Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|32||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data|
|33||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida|
|34||Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|35||Jens Debusschere (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin|
|36||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|37||Aime De Gendt (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|38||Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|39||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|40||Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie|
|41||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|42||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky|
|43||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|44||Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-FDJ|
|45||Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team|
|46||Pieter Weening (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|47||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|48||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky||0:05:47|
|49||Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:06:09|
|50||Tom Scully (NZl) EF Education First|
|51||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|52||Julien Vermote (Bel) Dimension Data||0:06:13|
|53||Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin||0:06:17|
|54||Silvan Dillier (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale|
|55||Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data|
|56||Boy van Poppel (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|57||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|58||Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Gobert|
|59||Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|60||Piet Allegaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|61||Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel) CCC Team|
|62||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|63||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Bahrain-Merida|
|64||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|65||Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|66||Michael Schär (Swi) CCC Team|
|67||Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|68||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Movistar Team|
|69||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|70||Bert De Backer (Bel) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|71||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) CCC Team|
|72||Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team|
|73||Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) CCC Team|
|74||Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|75||Jack Bauer (NZl) Mitchelton-Scott|
|76||Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky|
|77||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|78||Fernando Gaviria (Col) UAE Team Emirates|
|79||Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin||0:08:32|
|80||Matti Breschel (Den) EF Education First||0:08:46|
|81||Jimmy Turgis (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|82||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Katusha-Alpecin|
|83||Owain Doull (GBr) Team Sky|
|84||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|85||Hugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team|
|86||Dorian Godon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|87||Jan Tratnik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|88||Jonas Van Genechten (Bel) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|89||Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Direct Energie|
|90||Jaime Castrillo (Spa) Movistar Team|
|91||Otto Vergaerde (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|92||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|93||Senne Leysen (Bel) Roompot-Charles|
|94||Daniil Fominykh (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|95||Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott|
|96||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott|
|97||Anthony Turgis (Fra) Direct Energie|
|98||Filippo Ganna (Ita) Team Sky|
|99||Amund Grøndahl Jansen (Nor) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|100||Antoine Duchesne (Can) Groupama-FDJ|
|101||Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|102||Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Dimension Data|
|103||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|104||Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|105||Iljo Keisse (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:10:14|
|106||Damien Touze (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|107||Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Sunweb|
|108||Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|109||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|110||Stijn Steels (Bel) Roompot-Charles|
|111||Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|112||Casper Pedersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|113||Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|114||Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Groupama-FDJ|
|115||Juraj Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|116||Jordi Warlop (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|117||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Dimension Data|
|118||Edward Planckaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|119||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) CCC Team|
|120||Alex Kirsch (Lux) Trek-Segafredo|
|121||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|122||Nico Denz (Ger) AG2R La Mondiale|
|123||Luis Mas Bonet (Spa) Movistar Team|
|124||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|125||Lars Bak (Den) Dimension Data||0:10:49|
|DNF||Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Brian van Goethem (Ned) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Lawrence Naesen (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Zico Waeytens (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Roy Jans (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Dries De Bondt (Bel) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Lars Boom (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|DNF||Sjoerd van Ginneken (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Kenneth Van Rooy (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|DNF||Adrien Garel (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|DNF||Julien Morice (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|DNF||Jérémy Lecroq (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel|
|DNF||Pim Ligthart (Ned) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Tom Devriendt (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|DNF||Ludwig De Winter (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|DNF||Jesper Asselman (Ned) Roompot-Charles|
|DNF||Taylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First|
|DNF||Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Zhandos Bizhigitov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Danny van Poppel (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|DNF||Davide Ballerini (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Robert Stannard (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Edoardo Affini (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin|
|DNF||Rick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin|
|DNF||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Cees Bol (Ned) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Filippo Fortin (Ita) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Asbjørn Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First|
|DNF||Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Kamil Gradek (Pol) CCC Team|
|DNF||Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Bagdonas Gediminas (Ltu) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Julien Duval (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Oliviero Troia (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Jay Thomson (RSA) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb|