Team Sky's Luke Rowe was once again at the head of affairs in the critical point of racing in Flanders, making a late four-man breakaway at the Three Days of De Panne with eventual winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Astana's Alexey Lutsenko and Lieuwe Westra. But the Welshman's plans were scuttled by an ill-timed puncture that came just before the final ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen with 18km to go.
After coming fourth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Rowe has been there or thereabouts in most of the Belgian races but unable to make the podium.
In De Panne, Rowe followed the move with 30km to go but suffered his puncture at the worst possible moment. He fought to rejoin the lead group, being joined by Mads Pedersen (Stolting Service Group) in the pursuit, but they were unable to close the gap and finished 29 seconds back, seven seconds ahead of the chasing peloton.
"Gutted, yeah, that hits the nail on the head," Rowe said to TeamSky.com. "From the get go we rode well today, we always had guys on the front - the race was split right from kilometre zero and we had pretty much the whole team on the front. Everything went perfectly, we always had numbers, right up until that puncture."
With Westra and Lutsenko pulling the most with an eye on the overall classification, Rowe had a strong chance to win, especially with Kristoff just coming back from illness. But the puncture ruined his chance to know what could have been.
"I felt pretty strong," Rowe said. "I think Westra was the strongest in the break, he was pulling some really strong turns, but I felt pretty comfortable - well, as comfortable as you can expect!
"Once again, I'm just gutted to puncture at what was probably the worst moment in the entire race. It was right at the bottom of the Muur, so as soon as I got the fresh wheel I went absolutely flat out up there because I figured if I hadn't closed the gap by the top I'd probably never close it. I sprinted up that in a do-or-die effort."
Rowe received a spare wheel from the neutral service motorcycle since the team cars were diverted around the Muur, and by the time he got rolling again, the three ahead were not to be seen again.
"It's part of the sport. There's no one to blame, no one behind it, it could happen to any rider, in any race, at any moment. Unfortunately it was me today, but that's life. I'll crack on and hope for better luck in the future," he concluded.
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