Dwars door Vlaanderen - Race debrief

Race: Dwars door Vlaanderen (WorldTour)
Date: March 28, 2018
Distance: 180km
Weather: Constant rain, 8-10 degrees.

Podium: 1st Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors), 2nd Mike Teunissen (Team Sunweb), 3rd Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale)

Winner's quote: "We went into the last kilometre and I tried to have a gap of 10 metres, then started to sprint full gas. I knew if they gave me five seconds in the last kilometre then it would be difficult to bridge it again. Most of us were already on the limit - it was a hard day, a hard race, also with the weather conditions it was not easy, with all day rain."

Critical point: When an attack containing Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) is caught after the second ascent of the Knokteberg, Sep Vanmarcke launches an attack on the last difficult sector of cobbles with 26 kilometres to go. With BMC split over the road, only Lampaert can initially follow. Teunissen, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) scamper across, but from that point on the race is over for those left behind. Quick-Step Floors patrol the chase through Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar, while Jasper Stuyven is forced to sit back with his teammate, Pedersen, up the road. The rest of the chase, including Alejandro Valverde and Gianni Moscon, are unwilling to commit with two Quick-Step riders waiting in the wings.

Final kilometre: A five-rider group heads under the flamme rouge but the pace drops after a late attack from Mads Pedersen is neutralized by Lampaert. As the speed continues to slow, the riders begin to look at each other, and Lampaert accelerates from the front. There's a split second, before the attack, when at least three of the other riders in the break have their heads down, while Vanmarcke is still recovering from Pedersen's vicious acceleration. Boasson Hagen lets a gap open, while Vanmarcke hesitates and then anticipates Teunissen will chase. A response never comes and Lampaert takes his second consecutive win in the race. Teunissen claims a surprise second-place, with Vanmarcke just about holding off Boasson Hagen for the final step on the podium.

Early break: There were few early moves but nothing stuck until…

Unsung hero: In August of 2017 Luke Rowe's career was in serious doubt after the Welshman suffered 20 fractures to his right leg and foot in a rafting accident. It's been a long road back for the 28-year-old, but he is finally starting to show his old form, and on Wednesday he was the first rider to create a significant break when he soloed over the Kluisberg before his eventual capture with just over 60km to go.

Most aggressive rider: A toss-up between Van Avermaet and Benoot but the Lotto-Soudal rider just shaves it. He looked the strongest on the second ascent of the Knokteberg, and despite not having a team as strong as Van Avermaet's BMC, was still in the reckoning come the main selection. Benoot then worked in the late chase before slipping clear with Stybar to take a creditable seventh.

Unluckiest rider: Wout van Aert (Veranda's Willems Crelan). This has been a coming-of-age spring campaign for 23-year-old, but Dwars door Vlaanderen was not a race he will want to dwell on for too long. The distance and parcours should have been too his liking but crashing into a race official with 66km to go, and two further mechanicals, left the young rider trailing.

Talking point: Grand Tour riders in the Classics. It seemed incongruous to see Nairo Quintana - best known for floating up mountains - on the wet cobbles of Belgium, but the Colombian was one of three riders here for Tour de France preparation, alongside his teammate Alejandro Valverde and AG2R's Romain Bardet. Some questioned the decision to come, arguing that the bergs of Flanders have little to do with the pavé of Paris-Roubaix, but Quintana, who looked utterly miserable both at the start and finish, said he needed to experience it in a race situation. He survived, finishing in the first gruppetto with Bardet, who expected more after his Strade Bianche podium but rued his positioning on the Taaienberg. Valverde, on the other hand, has vast one-day pedigree - just not on cobbles - and produced a confident display in which he animated the race and finished 11th, ratcheting up the anticipation of a possible Tour of Flanders start.

Expert says: "It was a super, super aggressive race and that was partly down to the shorter distance of 180km and the weather. When you get races of that distance it becomes a different landscape, and it becomes a lot more open for more guys to be competitive. Quick-Step showed that numbers in those sorts of scenarios make such a difference, and I think we could see that again in Flanders this weekend. Of course, Lampaert had super legs, but when you've got five or six guys who can race like that, and you can revolve the leadership, it makes it so much harder to race against." - Matt White, DS, Mitchelton-Scott.

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