Two days after – in his own words – getting his "head kicked in" at the E3 BinckBank Classic, Luke Rowe (Team Sky) bounced back in style on Sunday with an aggressive display in a memorable edition of Gent-Wevelgem.
Hopes were high for the Welshman this spring – whose 2018 Classics campaign was derailed by a fractured leg the previous summer – after a strong showing at Paris-Nice in early March. However, he admitted he was off the pace at the E3, where he finished 54th and offered "no excuses" for his display.
At Gent-Wevelgem, despite only finishing 18th, it was a different story entirely. He made it into an elite 18-rider breakaway that formed up by the North Sea coast after just 50km, and made a huge solo effort in the last 50km to bridge back up to the four that had gone clear from it.
In the company of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) and Trek-Segafredo's Edward Theuns, it looked like they might go all the way but were caught by the reduced peloton with 18km remaining.
"I wasn't surprised at all to see the early move go. I'd seen it coming all day long. It was windy right from the start and splitting up from 500 metres into the race. It was just a matter of time before a group went. Every director in the team car was saying, 'Crosswinds, crosswinds,'" Rowe explained.
"When you have a group of 20 or so riders, and teams like Bora, Jumbo and Trek have numbers, they are always going to keep the momentum up. I'm not surprised how far it went, either."
Although Rowe survived the first real selection on the first ascent of the Kemmelberg with just over 70km to go, he was forced to drop back when Sagan, Trentin, Theuns and Teunissen attacked from that group.
Undeterred, however, Rowe rode near the front over the three sectors of the so-called Plugstreets – or gravel tracks – before launching an audacious solo attempt to bridge back across. It took him nearly 10 kilometres, but he made it.
"I lost a year of my life there," he joked. "Those four had gone clear and I'd kind of missed the boat, which was disappointing.
"After the gravel roads, I just sensed everyone was on their knees. I still had a little bit of gas left, so I thought I'd hit out on a little climb and hopefully bring one or two with me. Then you look around and you're on your own.
"You're committed then, and you're in no man's land, so it was either get across or blow up trying. So I just went full gas and managed it. When you close a gap, you can sometimes do the first half quite easily, but then the second half took five or six kilometres. Luckily, I just made it, so I had a few kilometres before the Kemmelberg."
That final ascent of the Kemmelberg was the last major difficulty of the day, preceding a 30-kilometre run-in to Wevelgem, where the stiff headwind stacked the odds against the attackers and allowed the reduced peloton to come back for a sprint.
"We actually didn't go that hard up the Kemmelberg. I said to the guys just before it, if we split up we have no chance with the headwind to the finish. So we took it at a speed so all five of us got over it together," Rowe explained.
"Then it was 30km into a headwind. That was our only chance. They got organised behind, unfortunately."
Rowe crossed the line towards the back of that group, but nevertheless took heart from instantly turning things around, with the Tour of Flanders just a week away.
"It's nice to bounce back," he said. "For some reason or another, the E3 was just a massive fail for me, and I was quite disappointed, actually. I was quite keen to put things right this morning. Again, we finished the race without a result, but just to be at the front and have good legs and sensations is the important thing before the coming weeks, so I think I can be happy about today.
"Now I think there can be a bit of excitement going into Flanders."
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