Philippe Gilbert wins Tour of Flanders after epic solo break

Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) won the 2017 Tour of Flanders, but that simple statement doesn't even begin to tell the tale of one of the most remarkable editions in the race's history, and certainly the least predictable on the new finale over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Gilbert was alone for the final 55 kilometres of the race, having broken clear on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont – and that after being part of an elite selection that formed on the Muur 40 kilometres earlier – but that is still only part of the story.

The race will be remembered, too, for the bizarre crash that ended the challenge of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) as he gave chase on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. The world champion clipped a roadside barrier and brought down Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale).

Van Avermaet got back up and still won the sprint for second place, ahead of Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), 29 seconds down on Gilbert. It was that kind of a race, that kind of a day.

Sagan and Van Avermaet were 55 seconds behind Gilbert at the base of the Kwaremont, and the Belgian champion still had the bulk of that lead in hand even after Sagan accelerated near the summit. We will never know if Gilbert would have held out without the crash, but that detracts not one jot from his triumph. Gilbert, for his invention and his startling strength, was well worth his victory at the end of an absurd bike race.

Quick-Step wanted to avoid going toe-to-toe with Van Avermaet and Sagan in the finale, and their approach was flawless. The Muur van Geraardsbergen, back on the route after a six-year absence, proved pivotal even though the old friend was positioned some 95 kilometres from the finish. Tom Boonen, riding his final Ronde, set a fierce pace on the climb, and his effort brought a group of 14 clear, including Gilbert and Matteo Trentin. With Sagan and Van Avermaet caught behind, the Quick-Step trio didn't need a second invitation to put their shoulders to the wheel.

"It all started on the Muur. I was riding on Tom Boonen's wheel and it went on from there," Gilbert said. "We had three riders in the group and we decided to push on."

When they reached the Kwaremont 40 kilometres later, Gilbert opted to follow the same principle. He punched clear midway up the climb, and simply opted to continue alone when it was clear that nobody could come close to matching his speed.

"On the Kwaremont, I decided to go full on. I made an effort and I looked behind and I was alone," Gilbert said. "So I just went on from there." As simple and as brutally complicated as that.

There was, eventually, a general regrouping behind, though, as ever, the Ronde proved an elimination race. Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Luke Rowe (Sky) were thwarted by crashes, and Boonen by a mechanical mishap on, of all places, the Taaienberg.

With 35 kilometres to go, the race finally seemed to be settling into its anticipated script, as Sagan and Van Avermaet went clear over the Taaienberg in a chasing group that swelled to include Van Baarle, Naesen, Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert), Trentin and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), and this septet hit the base of the Kwaremont for the final time just under a minute down on Gilbert.

When Sagan took up the reins near the top, only Van Avermaet and Naesen could follow, but in an instant, their already guttering hopes were extinguished. Sagan struck a barrier at the roadside – it seemed as his bike was hooked by a billowing advertising banner – and Van Avermaet and Naesen came down with him. Van Avermaet remounted immediately, while Sagan waited for a replacement bike, knowing his chance of a repeat Ronde was gone.

Up ahead, Gilbert betrayed his first signs of suffering on the Paterberg, where he struggled to keep his gear turning over, but he crested the summit with 50 seconds in hand on a chase group made up of Van Baarle, a bloodied Van Avermaet and his Quick-Step teammate Niki Terpstra, who came from a long, long way back to bridge up.

At that point, Gilbert looked every inch the winner, but the ferocity of Van Avermaet's pursuit, allied to a stiff headwind, made for a nervous spell around the 5km-to-go banner, when seconds began crumbling off his advantage.

By the flamme rouge, however, Gilbert had steadied the ship, and he could sit up and celebrate his win as he pedalled up the long finishing straight in Oudenaarde. On crossing the line, Gilbert stepped off his bike and lifted it over his head. It was a wonder he had the strength to do so.

Behind, Van Avermaet out-sprinted Terpstra and Van Baarle for second, coming home 28 seconds down. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) came home 52 seconds down in fifth, ahead of Sacha Modolo (UAE-Emirates) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).


"I was aiming for the win but it didn't work out," Van Avermaet said. "On the Muur I was a bit far behind and I didn't see what happened when that group went past. I was riding a very strong race and we were chasing very hard, but some people weren't contributing to the chase. It was better when we got to the final - once you get away there, you can take some time back. But Phil had a minute by then, and it was very hard."

Gilbert hadn't raced the Ronde since 2012, as BMC had preferred to deploy him in the Ardennes to give Van Avermaet sole leadership on the cobbles. On signing him for Quick-Step Floors during the off-season, Patrick Lefevere had no misgivings about adding another potential leader to his Ronde line-up. He clasped Gilbert in a hug by the podium. "Mamma mia," Gilbert said.

How it unfolded

The 101st edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen was the start of a new era, as Antwerp hosted the start of Vlaanderens Mooiste for the first time, after 19 years in Bruges. Pleasant spring sunshine and thick crowds greeted the riders in the Grote Markt, where Boonen, on the verge of his retirement, was feted with the ‘Viking clap' celebration popularised by Iceland's supporters at Euro 2016 last summer.

The early break ghosted off the front surprisingly early, with Mark McNally (Wanty-Gobert), Oliviero Troia (UAE Emirates), Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Michael Goolaerts (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Julien Morice (Direct Energie), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and André Looij (Roompot) forging clear in the opening kilometres and opening a maximum lead of twelve minutes.

From there, BMC and Bora-Hansgrohe took the initiative to keep the octet under control, with the pace in the peloton eventually rising after the first ascent of the Kwaremont, with 144 kilometres to go. A number of nervous crashes took place, too, as the peloton bottlenecked on narrow roads, with Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) among the victims.

The eight leaders reached the Muur van Geraardsbergen with a lead of more than five minutes, but all eyes were on the main peloton, where Tom Boonen was setting the tempo. The Muur, back in the race after a six-year absence, may have been a long way from the finish – some 95 kilometres – but it proved to be a pivotal moment in the race. Boonen's forcing split the peloton into several groups and when the dust settled, the Belgian was joined by teammates Gilbert and Matteo Trentin in an elite 14-man selection that also contained Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Luke Rowe and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Bryan Coquard, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Sacha Modolo (UAE Emirates).

The big absentees were Sagan and Van Avermaet, and they trailed by 1:10 when the Boonen-Gilbert group caught the early break with 67 kilometres remaining. Boonen and Trentin were particularly active on the front, eager to ensure they stayed clear until the second ascent of the Kwaremont, knowing that no one team would be able to marshal a chase on the succession of hills that followed.

They had 35 seconds in hand at the base of Oude Kwaremont, where, with 55 kilometres remaining, Gilbert went clear alone, dropping Vanmarcke and the others. By the top, the Belgian champion was 56 seconds clear of the peloton, and he opted not to wait for company.

The race, initially slow-burning was now fully ignited. On the fast descent before the Paterberg, Vanmarcke crashed and brought Bodnar and Rowe down with him. On the Paterberg, Sagan, Van Avermaet were to the fore, and their efforts helped the the peloton to bridge back up to the Boonen group.

Come the foot of the Koppenberg, Gilbert had a lead of 55 seconds on the main group, an advantage he maintained over the Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg, but again, the drama was behind. The climb, nicknamed the 'Boonenberg,' marked the end of Boonen's challenge. A chain problem forced him to stop for a bike change, and when his replacement machine also proved problematic, he knew his chances had disappeared.

At the head of the group, meanwhile, Sagan launched his first telling acceleration, and only Naesen, Van Avermaet, Trentin and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) could follow, and they caught earlier attackers Van Baarle and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) over the top. They were a minute down on Gilbert over the Kruisberg, and the situation remained static until they reached the Kwaremont, where, suddenly and dramatically, this most incredible Tour of Flanders took on another guise.

Monuments man

Touchingly, Gilbert dedicated his victory to the late Claude Criquielion, who was the last Walloon to win the Tour of Flanders, 30 years ago. "I thought about him a lot on this special day," said Gilbert.

His 2012 world title notwithstanding, Gilbert had seemed in steady decline since his startling 2011 campaign, but at 34 years of age, the Belgian has somehow conjured up the greatest performance of his career. After the Tour of Lombardy (2009 and 2010) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he has now won three of cycling's Monuments, and he vowed to try to complete the set.

"I want to win all five," he said. "I've gone close at Milan-San Remo and I'll have to test myself at Paris-Roubaix, but my career is far from over and I want to realise this dream." 

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors6:23:45
2Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:00:29
3Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step FloorsRow 2 - Cell 2
4Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-DrapacRow 3 - Cell 2
5Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:53
6Sacha Modolo (Ita) Team UAE EmiratesRow 5 - Cell 2
7John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-SegafredoRow 6 - Cell 2
8Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Wilier TriestinaRow 7 - Cell 2
9Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 8 - Cell 2
10Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 9 - Cell 2
11Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Astana Pro TeamRow 10 - Cell 2
12Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-ScottRow 11 - Cell 2
13Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step FloorsRow 12 - Cell 2
14Yoann Offredo (Fra) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 13 - Cell 2
15Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team SkyRow 14 - Cell 2
16Scott Thwaites (GBr) Dimension DataRow 15 - Cell 2
17Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto SoudalRow 16 - Cell 2
18Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar TeamRow 17 - Cell 2
19Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo0:01:01
20André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal0:02:29
21Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-AlpecinRow 20 - Cell 2
22Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension DataRow 21 - Cell 2
23Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale0:02:32
24Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale-DrapacRow 23 - Cell 2
25Alexander Edmonson (Aus) Orica-Scott0:03:30
26Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 25 - Cell 2
27Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-HansgroheRow 26 - Cell 2
28Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team SunwebRow 27 - Cell 2
29Pim Ligthart (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse LoterijRow 28 - Cell 2
30Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-ScottRow 29 - Cell 2
31Julien Duval (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 30 - Cell 2
32Matti Breschel (Den) Astana Pro TeamRow 31 - Cell 2
33Marco Marcato (Ita) Team UAE EmiratesRow 32 - Cell 2
34Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJRow 33 - Cell 2
35Julien Vermote (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 34 - Cell 2
36Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 35 - Cell 2
37Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 36 - Cell 2
38Boy Van Poppel (Ned) Trek-SegafredoRow 37 - Cell 2
39Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 38 - Cell 2
40Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 39 - Cell 2
41Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing TeamRow 40 - Cell 2
42Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-AlpecinRow 41 - Cell 2
43Luka Pibernik (Slo) Bahrain-MeridaRow 42 - Cell 2
44Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 43 - Cell 2
45Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La MondialeRow 44 - Cell 2
46Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 45 - Cell 2
47Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro TeamRow 46 - Cell 2
48Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 47 - Cell 2
49Silvan Dillier (Swi) BMC Racing TeamRow 48 - Cell 2
50Eugert Zhupa (Alb) Wilier TriestinaRow 49 - Cell 2
51Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-SegafredoRow 50 - Cell 2
52Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Cannondale-DrapacRow 51 - Cell 2
53Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 52 - Cell 2
54Huub Duyn (Ned) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 53 - Cell 2
55Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-HansgroheRow 54 - Cell 2
56Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJRow 55 - Cell 2
57Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-SegafredoRow 56 - Cell 2
58Bram Tankink (Ned) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 57 - Cell 2
59Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension DataRow 58 - Cell 2
60Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Katusha-AlpecinRow 59 - Cell 2
61Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 60 - Cell 2
62Gaetan Bille (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan0:03:35
63Alex Turrin (Ita) Wilier TriestinaRow 62 - Cell 2
64Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky0:03:36
65Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 64 - Cell 2
66Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-HansgroheRow 65 - Cell 2
67Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Quick-Step FloorsRow 66 - Cell 2
68Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Bahrain-Merida0:04:15
69Sam Bewley (NZl) Orica-Scott0:04:32
70Olivier Le Gac (Fra) FDJ0:06:59
71Mark Mcnally (GBr) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 70 - Cell 2
72Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Cannondale-DrapacRow 71 - Cell 2
73Michael Morkov (Den) Katusha-AlpecinRow 72 - Cell 2
74Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb0:08:02
75Koen De Kort (Ned) Trek-SegafredoRow 74 - Cell 2
76Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 75 - Cell 2
77Federico Zurlo (Ita) Team UAE Emirates0:08:35
78Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Team SunwebRow 77 - Cell 2
79Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro TeamRow 78 - Cell 2
80Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-HansgroheRow 79 - Cell 2
81Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team SunwebRow 80 - Cell 2
82Ryan Mullen (Irl) Cannondale-DrapacRow 81 - Cell 2
83Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 82 - Cell 2
84Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 83 - Cell 2
85Antoine Duchesne (Can) Direct EnergieRow 84 - Cell 2
86Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro TeamRow 85 - Cell 2
87Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 86 - Cell 2
88Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 87 - Cell 2
89Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar TeamRow 88 - Cell 2
90Roy Curvers (Ned) Team SunwebRow 89 - Cell 2
91Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica-ScottRow 90 - Cell 2
92Mitch Docker (Aus) Orica-ScottRow 91 - Cell 2
93Wesley Kreder (Ned) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 92 - Cell 2
94Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 93 - Cell 2
95Julien Morice (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 94 - Cell 2
96Mickael Delage (Fra) FDJRow 95 - Cell 2
97Lars Boom (Ned) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 96 - Cell 2
98Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 97 - Cell 2
99Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing TeamRow 98 - Cell 2
100Stijn Steels (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 99 - Cell 2
101Dries De Bondt (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 100 - Cell 2
102Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky0:11:31
103Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La MondialeRow 102 - Cell 2
104Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Dimension DataRow 103 - Cell 2
105Twan Castelijns (Ned) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 104 - Cell 2
106Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team SkyRow 105 - Cell 2
107Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-SegafredoRow 106 - Cell 2
108Owain Doull (GBr) Team SkyRow 107 - Cell 2
109Stijn Devolder (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 108 - Cell 2
110Tom Scully (NZl) Cannondale-DrapacRow 109 - Cell 2
111Rudy Barbier (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 110 - Cell 2
112Juraj Sagan (Svk) Bora-HansgroheRow 111 - Cell 2
113Rafael Andriato (Bra) Wilier TriestinaRow 112 - Cell 2
114Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 113 - Cell 2
115Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 114 - Cell 2
116Amund Grondahl Jansen (Nor) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 115 - Cell 2
117Yohann Gene (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 116 - Cell 2
118Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 117 - Cell 2
119Gregory Rast (Swi) Trek-SegafredoRow 118 - Cell 2
120Luke Rowe (GBr) Team SkyRow 119 - Cell 2
121Tyler Farrar (USA) Dimension DataRow 120 - Cell 2
DNFJonathan Diebben (GBr) Team SkyRow 121 - Cell 2
DNFLiam Bertazzo (Ita) Wilier TriestinaRow 122 - Cell 2
DNFNick Dougall (RSA) Dimension DataRow 123 - Cell 2
DNFJurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 124 - Cell 2
DNFStef Van Zummeren (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 125 - Cell 2
DNFMichael Goolaerts (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 126 - Cell 2
DNFJay Robert Thomson (RSA) Dimension DataRow 127 - Cell 2
DNFCoen Vermeltfoort (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse LoterijRow 128 - Cell 2
DNFCarlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Movistar TeamRow 129 - Cell 2
DNFJorge Arcas Peña (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 130 - Cell 2
DNFHéctor Carretero (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 131 - Cell 2
DNFBrian Van Goethem (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse LoterijRow 132 - Cell 2
DNFLuka Mezgec (Slo) Orica-ScottRow 133 - Cell 2
DNFNuno Matos (Por) Movistar TeamRow 134 - Cell 2
DNFAlex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar TeamRow 135 - Cell 2
DNFYoucef Reguigui (Alg) Dimension DataRow 136 - Cell 2
DNFNico Denz (Ger) AG2R La MondialeRow 137 - Cell 2
DNFTony Martin (Ger) Katusha-AlpecinRow 138 - Cell 2
DNFHugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 139 - Cell 2
DNFChristophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits