The finish line of the Tour of Flanders is a frenzied place, as soigneurs and camera crews argue the toss with the security cordon and then swarm around the riders as they wheel to a halt, but Luke Rowe (Sky) cut a remarkably equable figure amid the maelstrom after his fifth place finish in Oudenaarde.
Team Sky entered the Tour of Flanders with genuine hopes that they might finally break their duck at the Monuments, but while Michal Kwiatkowski’s invention was the genesis of the winning move, Rowe would prove their best finisher, coming home in a chasing group 49 seconds behind winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).
Kwiatkowski fell back on the Oude Kwaremont, and come the final ascent of the Paterberg, only Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) were truly in contention to deny the flying Sagan. The final results, Rowe said, did not lie.
“We had numbers in the front. Tactically we were really good, we didn’t miss any moves, but the three strongest guys who were away in the end were the three strongest guys in the race,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Rowe had himself excelled on the Paterberg as he bludgeoned his way across to the principal chasing group in the company of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). He had teammate Geraint Thomas for company in that 13-strong group, but time has a habit of standing still in the final kilometres of the Tour of Flanders.
Kristoff and I only went across late, on the Paterberg, and as soon as we got there, everybody worked pretty well,” Rowe said. “But when guys like that have ten seconds, it’s hard. Ten seconds here is like a minute anywhere else. It’s so hard to close, especially with that tailwind.”
As the group drew nearer to Oudenaarde, the gap to the lone leader Sagan, not to mention the pursuing Cancellara and Vanmarcke grew wider. Rowe and Thomas had to resize their ambitions on the hoof.