Kristoff conquers Tour of Flanders

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) took a convincing sprint finish to win the 2015 Tour of Flanders ahead of breakaway companion Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) while Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) led home the remnants of the chasers and was forced to settle for third.

Kristoff and Terpstra jumped clear after the ascent of the Kruisberg, with the Dutch rider first to open up a gap on the rest of the race favourites.

Despite never holding more than a thirty second lead and a late counter attack from Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), the leading duo survived until the finish. Coming into the final kilometre Terpstra sat back and forced Kristoff to the front but the 2014 Milan-San Remo winner held his nerve and comprehensively took the sprint to secure the second Monument of his career.

"I'm really happy to win, it's a really good feeling," Kristoff said. "My family is here today, and it was a big dream and my big goal this season and I managed to do it.

"At the end, I came with Niki, and he didn't really want to work with me, but I understand that. In the end I could still beat him."

Kristoff is the first Norwegian to win the Tour of Flanders but coming into the race he was among the red-hot favourites having enjoyed an incredible start to the season already. His performance matched that of his Katusha team – measured, calculating and almost faultless.

Even when the Norwegian saw several of his teammates involved in crashes the game plan remained the same with the squad wisely intent on keeping their leader out of trouble for as long as possible. Every effort appeared rehearsed and refined and whereas Team Sky looked impressive but ultimately short of numbers when it mattered most, Kristoff rounded out the display with a textbook finishing – latching onto the Terpstra express when most of his rivals looked intent on holding back and then working with the Dutchman. Even Terpstra’s understandable lack of commitment in the finale could not break Kristoff from his stride.

Van Avermaet and Sagan’s late cameos glossed over the larger chase group who fought tooth and nail on the final ascents of the Paterberg and Kwaremont but had little shared agreement or power to bring back the leading duo.

How the race unfolded

After a slightly delayed start due to a farmer’s protest the 199 riders for the Tour of Flanders were able to roll out from the historical market square of Bruges and head south towards Kortrijk and the Flemish Ardennes hills near finish town Oudenaarde.

After 20 kilometres of racing five riders managed to distance the peloton, with Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing), Damien Gaudin (AG2R), Ralf Matzka (Bora), Matthew Brammeier (MTN Qhubeka) and Dylan Groenewegen (Roompot Oranje Peloton).

Clément Venturini (Cofidis) briefly featured in front but dropped back into the peloton. Brammeier won the bonus sprint in Sint-Eloois-Winkel, winning his 73kg weight in the local ‘Steene Molen’ beer.

A counter-attack with Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Marco Frapporti (Androni) bridged up to the five leaders, creating a group of seven. The Sky-led peloton allowed the group the distance and they collected a lead of nearly seven minutes when approaching Zwevegem, this year’s ‘village of the Ronde’, after 60 kilometres of racing.

As the peloton started to hit the first climbs the gap was coming back down.

Bradley Wiggins crashed, probably in the first crash of the day, just before the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. A few bike switches later he was back in the peloton where his teammates set the pace behind the seven leaders.

There were several counter-attacks during the first of three loops near Oudenaarde. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) featured in almost all of them. Nevertheless none of these attacks managed to gain distance on the peloton. Meanwhile, Paolini, Sagan, Degenkolb and Pozzato were confronted with flat tyres but they all kept cool and returned to the front.

On the wider roads towards the cobbles of the Haaghoek a Shimano service car tried to overtake the lead group but while doing so the car sideswiped Jesse Sergent. The incident was similar to the crash that took out Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland in the 2011 Tour de France.

Sergent, a 26-year-old rider from New-Zealand, was forced to abandon the race, bringing the lead group down to six riders, with about three minutes on the Sky-led peloton.

In Schorisse there was another incident with a neutral car from Shimano. This time they rode into the back of the FDJ team car. As a result the FDJ-car took down their own rider who had been visiting the team car. Two damaged cars, an injured FDJ-rider and a furious Marc Madiot was the outcome of another avoidable incident.

On the tenth climb of the day, the Kaperij, there were a few accelerations. In front Bak and Gaudin distanced their breakaway companions.

André Greipel was again trying to anticipate the moves from the team leaders, without gaining much distance as the pace in the peloton increased when approaching the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont.

Belgian champion Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) led the peloton on the climb with the break finally caught at the top of the ascent.

Greipel kept trying to sneak away, this time just before the famous Koppenberg. On the steep cobbled climb several riders were dropped, including Wiggins, while Devolder and Thomas were