Brabantse Pijl had promised much for QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, who have to date endured a miserable Classics campaign by their high standards. With Remco Evenepoel and Julian Alaphilippe joining the squad in the hills of the Flemish Brabant, the Belgian squad looked as strong as any on the start line in Leuven.
However, five hours later, when the riders rolled home in Overijse after a rain-soaked day in the saddle, Brabantse Pijl's final results painted a similar story for the team with Evenepoel the top finisher in sixth place.
The 22-year-old had made the elite lead group when the decisive move went under pressure from Ineos Grenadiers with 50km left to run. However, he struggled on the wet cobbled climbs and was isolated against a trio of riders from the British squad in the final.
To compound the misery, World Champion Alaphilippe hit the deck at the start of the final lap of the closing circuit, his own team car causing the crash as Sports Director Geert Van Bondt tried to squeeze it past the peloton. Evenepoel said later there was little he could've done against the Ineos trio of eventual winner Magnus Sheffield, Tom Pidcock, and Ben Turner.
"Ineos, what can you say. The strongest team, three guys in the front..." he told the assembled press, including Cyclingnews, after the race. "When they let one guy go like this and you jump behind and they jump on the wheel, you can't really do anything. So, it was really hard.
"As a team we have some problems in the one-day races but with Jumbo and Ineos there are two super strong teams. Here, the strongest team won, that's for sure. If you are three guys out of seven, then you are the strongest team.
"We have also won like that. It's just a matter of accepting how it is and turning the switch."
Evenepoel said that he didn't particularly enjoy the conditions on the day. Forecasts before the race had indicated a dry day out but a drizzle in the morning turned into rain all race long.
He compared the racing to a cyclo-cross race, also stating that he wouldn't be keen on racing the cobbled Flemish Classics in future if Brabantse Pijl was any indication of their toughness.
"It felt a bit like – I didn't know that today was a cyclocross race, I thought it was a road race, but looks like he was a cyclocross race today," he said. "
"It was really slippery. I think was really hard to stay up on the bike was really a big task to stay up on the bike and don't crash. On the cobbles I wasn't really comfortable. I still felt the legs a bit. So yeah, epic day, eh?
"I wouldn't really like to do the Flemish classics, I think. There are so many cobbles. I'm already in difficulties with only two cobbled sectors, so can you only imagine the Flanders races? I think it would be really hard."
Evenepoel singled out the Hertstraat, the first cobbled climb on the finishing circuit before Moskesstraat, as the toughest part of the day. He noted that he had felt uneasy riding in the gutter the first time and then sacrificed energy riding the cobbles instead on the three following ascents.
"I felt in good form, but not top form to win. I will have to ride a few more times in practice to get to know it better. You might see it a hundred times on my Strava," he joked.
Putting the racing, weather, and state of the roads aside, Evenepoel was also involved in two of the controversies of the day. The first saw him push Ben Turner out of the way in the paceline with 70km to go, a move for which he was reprimanded by the race jury.
Then, in the finishing sprint, he was almost forced into the barrier after Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) deviated from his line in the sprint for the podium places behind Sheffield. He missed out on the dash for the line as a result and spent the final 150 metres waving his hands in the air in frustration.
"I was frustrated by Wellens' dangerous move," he said of the deviation which saw the Belgian relegated from third to ninth. "Making a jump to the left like that is dangerous. His disqualification doesn't change much for us in the end. If I don't brake, I crash and we all crash."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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