In one of the most memorable races in recent years, Julian Alaphilippe (France) astonishingly defended his title, and will wear the famous rainbow bands of the world champion for the second consecutive year.
His offensive began nearly 200km from the finish with the first of several French attacks as his team sought to animate the race and make it as hard as possible. Alaphilippe himself attacked with still 58km to ride, and drew out many of the other favourites who dragged themselves away as the race entered its dénouement on the final two and a half laps of the Leuven finishing circuit.
Twice, Alaphilippe attacked from this select group and twice he was brought back into the fold. An old French proverb states that there is “never two without three”, and twenty kilometres from the finish, Alaphilippe attacked for the third time on the Sint Antoniusberg. This time, no one could follow him, and he carved out a 30-second gap over his chasers, enough to celebrate as he soloed down the finishing straight.
“Last year was a dream for me,” Alaphilippe said at the finish, “it was very hard and it’s emotional. I was very motivated. I wanted to do well for the team and get the best result possible.
"The legs felt great and in the final I made the cut. This wasn’t planned. I went all out, I have no words. I thought of my little one on the final. There were many supporters for Belgium and they asked me to slow down. They weren’t sympathetic words but it gave me more motivation.”
How it unfolded
On a 268.3km course, through 42 short climbs and crowds so vast that some had taken to standing on walls, lamp posts or balconies, the race travelled from Antwerp to Leuven. Once one-and-a-half laps of the Leuven finishing circuit were completed, it was on for a lap of the hillier Flandrien circuit, four more loops of the Leuven circuit, and another Flandrien lap before two-and-a-half final laps of the Leuven circuit.
After completing the long, neutralised zone through Antwerp, the race seemed to pause at the flag drop, perhaps in a collective drawing of breath, preparing for the chaos about to unfold.
The peloton lined itself out across the road, entered a tunnel and, then, as it emerged out the other side, Rory Townsend (Ireland) launched the first attack. His move failed, as did the subsequent counter-attacks and for the opening 10 kilometres the peloton remained a stubborn gruppo compatto, despite repeated attempts to form a breakaway.
Eventually, a group did escape. Townsend formed one-eighth of the move; he was joined by Jose Tito Hernandez (Columbia), Joel Burbano (Ecuador), Pavel Kochetkov (Russian Cycling Federation), Patrick Gamper (Austria), Oskar Nisu (Estonia), Kim Magnusson (Sweden) and Jambaljamts Sainbayar (Mongolia). Others looked to join them, but anxious to only allow a breakaway of manageable size to escape, Great Britain, Belgium and Denmark moved to block the road.
As the gap ballooned to six minutes, Tim DeClercq (Belgium) established himself on the front of the peloton where he shared the pace setting with Denmark, and the race settled into a short-lived, placid rhythm.
Even this more sedate stage of the day was punctuated by incident. Ethan Hayter (Great Britain) crashed on the approach to the first climb while shortly afterwards Matteo Trentin (Italy), Davide Ballerini (Italy) and Mads Pedersen (Denmark) collided at the back of the peloton.
Displaying their offensive strategy, France then launched their first attack of the day with 200km still to race. Twenty kilometres later, they attacked again through Anthony Turgis. He was shut down by DeClercq and brought back into the peloton. Another of the French riders, Benoît Cosnefroy then attacked on the first ascent of the Smeysberg, as the race entered the Flandrien circuit.
Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) and Magnus Cort (Denmark) joined him, and a gap emerged as Belgium blocked the peloton’s path on the narrow, cobbled climb. They remained out front as, behind them, the race exploded.
First, the peloton split on a flat, exposed section of the course, forcing Italy to chase back on. Then, on the Taymanstraat 174km from the finish, Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland) attacked and drew out an exceptionally strong group composed of representatives from multiple nations.
Only Italy had missed this move and, as this new group bridged across to Cosnefroy, Evenepoel and Cort, the gravity of their task became ominously clear for it contained many of the biggest names in cycling. Kasper Asgreen (Denmark), DeClercq, Brandon McNulty (USA), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands), Arnaud Démare (France), Primož Roglič (Slovenia), Ben Swift (Great Britain), Imanol Erviti (Spain), Bissegger, Nathan Haas (Australia), Jan Tratnik (Slovenia), and Markus Hoelgaard (Norway) present with Cort, Cosenfroy and Evenepoel.
By the time the race settled again, this group had a minute’s advantage over the peloton and another frantic chase for Italy ensued, led by the wounded Ballerini and Trentin. Helped by the fractious nature of the front group, only Asgreen and Evenepoel seemed committed, the gap began to fall so that as the race re-entered the Leuven circuit just 22 seconds separated these two groups.
After 40 kilometres of furious racing, the peloton finally caught this group on the first lap of the Leuven circuit, and the early breakaway was mopped up too.
As soon as the race regrouped, it split again; this time on wide, flat roads and Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) was caught in the wrong group. Though the peloton came back together again, attacks came thick and fast with the peloton so stretched out that it was only three riders abreast at its widest point.
Finally, still 92km from the finish, the elastic snapped and a small group containing Evenepoel, Andrea Bagioli (Italy), Ivan Cortina (Spain), Valentin Madouas (France), Rasmus Tiller (Norway), Robert Stannard (Australia), Mads Schmidt (Denmark), Tratnik, Dylan Van Baarle (Netherlands), Nils Politt (Germany) and Nielsen Powless (USA).
This time, Great Britain were forced to take initial responsibility for the chase as the gap reached 40 seconds at the entry to the Flandrien circuit. Such was the fierce pace that 90 riders - about half the field - had abandoned by this point.
On the longer climbs of the Flandrien circuit, various attacks were launched from the peloton in an attempt to join the leading group. Only an acceleration from Alaphilippe could accomplish this, with pre-race favourite Wout van Aert (Belgium) stuck to his back wheel. A group containing most of the contenders, though stripped of Asgreen and Peter Sagan (Slovakia), followed them and bridged across to the front group, 58 kilometres from the finish.
As the gap hovered precariously at 15 seconds, Evenepoel sat on the front and dragged the front group away from the peloton. Alaphilippe attacked once more on the Smeysberg but he was caught by the group shortly afterwards. To deter further attacks, Evenepoel lifted the pace and remained on the front until 25 kilometres from the finish.
Once Evenepoel had exhausted his energy reserves, however, Van Aert and Belgium were vulnerable to attacks; a vulnerability that Alaphilippe exploited.
On the Wijnpers climb, nearly obscured by the multi-coloured forest of flags that lined the road, Alaphilippe, set up by Madouas, attacked for the first time forcing van Aert himself to chase back on. His second attempt was also unsuccessful but his third attack distanced the remaining contenders.
A small group comprised of Valgren, Stuyven, Powless and Van Baarle formed behind him, but they were unable to erode Alaphilippe’s advantage which grew in the final 20 kilometres, reaching 32 seconds by the finish.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Julian Alaphilippe (France)||5:56:34|
|2||Dylan Van Baarle (Netherlands)||0:00:32|
|3||Michael Valgren Hundahl (Denmark)|
|4||Jasper Stuyven (Belgium)|
|5||Neilson Powless (United States Of America)|
|6||Thomas Pidcock (Great Britain)||0:00:49|
|7||Zdeněk Štybar (Czech Republic)||0:01:06|
|8||Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands)||0:01:18|
|9||Florian Senechal (France)|
|10||Sonny Colbrelli (Italy)|
|11||Wout Van Aert (Belgium)|
|12||Markus Hoelgaard (Norway)|
|13||Valentin Madouas (France)|
|14||Matej Mohoric (Slovenia)||0:04:00|
|15||Giacomo Nizzolo (Italy)||0:04:05|
|16||Nils Politt (Germany)||0:05:25|
|17||Guillaume Boivin (Canada)|
|18||Jan Polanc (Slovenia)|
|19||Benoit Cosnefroy (France)||0:05:30|
|20||Victor Campenaerts (Belgium)|
|21||Alexander Kristoff (Norway)||0:06:27|
|22||Mike Teunissen (Netherlands)|
|23||Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spain)|
|24||Diego Ulissi (Italy)|
|25||Michael Matthews (Australia)|
|26||Peter Sagan (Slovakia)|
|27||Dylan Teuns (Belgium)|
|28||Sebastian Schönberger (Austria)|
|29||Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)|
|30||Luka Mezgec (Slovenia)|
|31||Tiesj Benoot (Belgium)|
|32||Petr Vakoč (Czech Republic)|
|33||Sven Erik Bystrøm (Norway)|
|34||Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway)|
|35||Ethan Hayter (Great Britain)|
|36||Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)|
|37||Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)|
|38||Patrick Gamper (Austria)|
|39||Rui Oliveira (Portugal)|
|40||Artem Nych (Russian Federation)||0:06:31|
|41||Stefan Küng (Switzerland)|
|42||Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spain)|
|43||Imanol Erviti (Spain)|
|44||Gonzalo Serrano Rodriguez (Spain)|
|45||Silvan Dillier (Switzerland)|
|46||Cesare Benedetti (Poland)|
|47||João Almeida (Portugal)|
|48||Primož Roglič (Slovenia)|
|49||Yukiya Arashiro (Japan)|
|50||Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea)|
|51||Rasmus Tiller (Norway)|
|52||Emils Liepins (Latvia)|
|53||Carlos Rodriguez Cano (Spain)||0:06:39|
|54||Michael Gogl (Austria)||0:06:40|
|55||Nelson Oliveira (Portugal)|
|56||Arnaud Demare (France)||0:06:48|
|57||G Lawson Craddock (United States Of America)||0:06:49|
|58||Gianni Moscon (Italy)||0:06:52|
|59||Roger Adria Oliveras (Spain)||0:07:04|
|60||Toms Skujins (Latvia)||0:07:07|
|61||Yves Lampaert (Belgium)||0:07:22|
|62||Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)|
|63||Fabian Lienhard (Switzerland)||0:15:43|
|64||Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Colombia)|
|65||Nelson Soto Martinez (Colombia)||0:17:18|
|66||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands)|
|67||Nikias Arndt (Germany)|
|68||Georg Zimmermann (Germany)|
|DNF||Andrea Bagioli (Italy)|
|DNF||Nicholas Schultz (Australia)|
|DNF||Connor Swift (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Rémi Cavagna (France)|
|DNF||Jan Tratnik (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Kasper Asgreen (Denmark)|
|DNF||Michal Golas (Poland)|
|DNF||Robert Stannard (Australia)|
|DNF||Alessandro De Marchi (Italy)|
|DNF||Christophe Laporte (France)|
|DNF||Anthony Turgis (France)|
|DNF||Maciej Bodnar (Poland)|
|DNF||Tim Declercq (Belgium)|
|DNF||Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark)|
|DNF||Jake Stewart (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Ben Swift (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Caleb Ewan (Australia)|
|DNF||Magnus Cort Nielsen (Denmark)|
|DNF||Sergei Chernetskii (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark)|
|DNF||Lukasz Owsian (Poland)|
|DNF||Pavel Kochetkov (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Antoine Duchesne (Canada)|
|DNF||Petr Rikunov (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Barnabás Peák (Hungary)|
|DNF||Jambaljamts Sainbayar (Mongolia)|
|DNF||Nickolas Zukowsky (Canada)|
|DNF||Jack Bauer (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Igor Boev (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Michael Schär (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Colombia)|
|DNF||Lucas Eriksson (Sweden)|
|DNF||Mikkel Honoré (Denmark)|
|DNF||Oskar Nisu (Estonia)|
|DNF||Nathan Haas (Australia)|
|DNF||Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Marco Haller (Austria)|
|DNF||Evaldas Siskevicius (Lithuania)|
|DNF||Brandon Mcnulty (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Matteo Jorgenson (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Harrison Sweeny (Australia)|
|DNF||Fred Wright (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Kim Magnusson (Sweden)|
|DNF||Josef Černý (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Juraj Sagan (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Karl Patrick Lauk (Estonia)|
|DNF||Pascal Ackermann (Germany)|
|DNF||Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Juan Sebastian Molano Benavides (Colombia)|
|DNF||Alvaro Jose Hodeg Chagui (Colombia)|
|DNF||Yuriy Natarov (Kazakhstan)|
|DNF||Rory Townsend (Ireland)|
|DNF||Clément Russo (France)|
|DNF||Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece)|
|DNF||Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (South Africa)|
|DNF||Stanislaw Aniolkowski (Poland)|
|DNF||David Per (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Luke Rowe (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Luis Guillermo Mas Bonet (Spain)|
|DNF||Eder Frayre Moctezuma (Mexico)|
|DNF||Ryan Mullen (Ireland)|
|DNF||Robin Carpenter (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Pier Andre Cote (Canada)|
|DNF||Martin Laas (Estonia)|
|DNF||Krists Neilands (Latvia)|
|DNF||Jose Tito Hernandez Jaramillo (Colombia)|
|DNF||André Rodrigues De Carvalho (Portugal)|
|DNF||John Degenkolb (Germany)|
|DNF||Quinn Simmons (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Anatolii Budiak (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Oscar Riesebeek (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Franklin Archibold Castillo (Panama)|
|DNF||Benjamin Perry (Canada)|
|DNF||Aleksandr Riabushenko (Belarus)|
|DNF||Domen Novak (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Michael Kukrle (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Patrik Tybor (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Dawit Yemane (Eritrea)|
|DNF||Martin Pluto (Latvia)|
|DNF||Shane Archbold (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Matteo Trentin (Italy)|
|DNF||Davide Ballerini (Italy)|
|DNF||Marc Hirschi (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Ryan Gibbons (South Africa)|
|DNF||Danny Van Poppel (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Luke Durbridge (Australia)|
|DNF||Dmitrii Strakhov (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Connor Brown (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Natnael Berhane (Eritrea)|
|DNF||Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Alex Aranburu Deba (Spain)|
|DNF||Edward Dunbar (Ireland)|
|DNF||Rigoberto Uran (Colombia)|
|DNF||Erik Baska (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Hugo Houle (Canada)|
|DNF||Oleksandr Prevar (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Yevgeniy Gidich (Kazakhstan)|
|DNF||Odd Christian Eiking (Norway)|
|DNF||Metkel Eyob (Eritrea)|
|DNF||Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Colombia)|
|DNF||Jayde Julius (South Africa)|
|DNF||Sebastian Novoa (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Bayron Guama (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Miles Scotson (Australia)|
|DNF||Andreas Kron (Denmark)|
|DNF||Ylber Sefa (Albania)|
|DNF||Mads Pedersen (Denmark)|
|DNF||Maximilian Schachmann (Germany)|
|DNF||Alex Kirsch (Luxembourg)|
|DNF||Tom Scully (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Joel Burbano Coral (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Orluis Alberto Aular Sanabria (Bolivarian Republic Of Venezuela)|
|DNF||Rafael Reis (Portugal)|
|DNF||Wilson Haro (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania)|
|DNF||Cristian Pita (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Antonio Eric Fagundez Lima (Uruguay)|
|DNF||Norman Vahtra (Estonia)|
|DNF||Andrii Kulyk (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kazakhstan)|
|DNF||Mykhaylo Kononenko (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Gustav Basson (South Africa)|
|DNF||Daniil Fominykh (Kazakhstan)|
|DNF||Sarawut Sirironnachai (Thailand)|
|DNF||Kévin Geniets (Luxembourg)|
|DNS||Alexis Quinteros (Ecuador)|
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Issy Ronald has just graduated from the London School of Economics where she studied for an undergraduate and masters degree in History and International Relations. Since doing an internship at Procycling magazine, she has written reports for races like the Tour of Britain, Bretagne Classic and World Championships, as well as news items, recaps of the general classification at the Grand Tours and some features for Cyclingnews. Away from cycling, she enjoys reading, attempting to bake, going to the theatre and watching a probably unhealthy amount of live sport.
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