Dark-horse favorite Alberto Bettiol Alberto Bettiol won the 103th edition of the Tour of Flanders today, slipping away by himself on the day’s penultimate, cobbled climb and maintaining an advantage over a small group that contained nearly every other rider that had been tipped to win. The Italian, who rides for the American EF Education First team, had shown promise in races throughout the spring (he was fourth in the recent E3 BinckBank classic), but this was the biggest – and first – win of his career. He was all smiles and waves after the race, until he was handed a cellphone to call a loved one. When the call connected, he cried “Amore!” and then broke down in shocked sobs.
The first half of the 270-mile race had been largely uneventful, with a four-man breakaway group leading the peloton by around six minutes. But things grew chaotic as the race approached the first of its 17 climbs. With 100 kilometers to go, Magnus Cort Nielsen overtook the four-man breakway and formed the first of a series of short-lived, punching and counter-punching breaks. With 60 kilometers to go, pre-race pick Mathieu Van Der Poel rode through a planter box and, for five or six seconds, clung to his wildly bucking bicycle like a cowboy on a bronco, before ultimately going over his handlebars. He rallied, however, and managed to animate the race’s final moments.
Meanwhile, the likes of Bettiol teammate Sep Van Marcke, Dylan Van Baarle, and eventual second-place winner Kasper Asgreen fueled competing separatist movements, but the group of main favorites stood united. As they approached the day’s final two ascents (the one-two combination of the Kwaremont and the Paterberg climbs) and the remaining 15-kilometer flat run to the finish, it was unclear how any one rider was going to be able to jump clear of a group with so much star power. But Bettiol, an underdog, was able to skip off without too much suspicion, while teammate Sebastian Langeveld made himself a perfect nuisance to the group trying to organize a chase behind.
In the end, Bettiol won by 14 seconds over Kasper Asgreen, who held a slim, three-second margin over the bunch, led in by Alexander Kristoff.
The Day’s Big Winners
- Alberto Bettiol Obviously
- Kasper Asgreen An underrated rider who led a key breakaway and still managed to come in second
- Mathieu Van Der Poel To have simply made it back to the bunch after going over his handlebars would have been impressive enough, but then to finish fourth? Chapeau.
- Italy The women’s edition of the race was won by Bettiol’s compatriot, Marta Bastianelli.
The Day’s Big Losers
- Niki Terpstra Last year’s winner was involved in an apparently minor crash early on in the race and suffered a concussion.
- Zdenek Stybar The day’s top-rated rider simply pooped out with 27 kilometers to go
- Peter Sagan The three-time world champion looked gassed on the climbs, and he was never able to shake his rivals.