Gilbert’s ‘crazy’ Flanders solo win

The Ronde Van Vlaanderen – the Tour of Flanders – has a habit of sorting the men from the boys, and this year Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (fi’zi:k Antares saddle) and save Gilbert for La Fleche Wallone. But that has all changed with his move to Quick-Step Floors. Adding Flanders to the 34-year-old’s Lombardy and Liege-Bastogne-Liege makes the former world champion a triple Monument winner.

The first cobbled classic of the year, Flanders is always a highly challenging course, with this 101st edition, starting in Antwerp after 19 years in Bruges, was no exception. The crisp spring sunshine welcomed a top-class field.

A high pace, fractured groups and a number of crashes made for an all-action race. A group containing Gilbert and Tom Boonen caught the early breakaway on the first ascent of the Muur with around 95km of the 260km remaining – their pace forcing more splits in the peloton, with Van Avermaet in a group some 35 seconds down at the start of the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont – where Gilbert made his break.

He didn’t wait for team-mates, he didn’t care what was happening behind him, Gilbert just rode away and by the top of the climb found himself 56 seconds ahead with 55km to go…

And the chase was on. Sep Vanmarcke’s mechanical ended his challenge. The advantage was very slowly whittled away until a crash between Peter Sagan, Van Avermaert and a roadside barrier put the World Champion out and left the Belgian bloodied but still battling. Ultimately it became clear that Gilbert had done enough to stay away for the full 55km, and it came down to a sprint for the minor places The 31-year-old Belgian won the three-up sprint to finish second – retaining his UCI number 1 position– with Dylan Van Baarle (R1B shoes) taking third ahead of Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors).

‘I was third here twice before and twice third in San Remo, and finally I won here in Flanders so I can cross that one off. It's done,’ said Gilbert. ‘I still have two to make, Roubaix and San Remo. The good news is that it's not my last year, so I still have a chance in the future.’

We were already looking forward to next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix – but what more motivations might this week’s Vlaanderens Mooiste have triggered? It will surely be another fine classic on the cobbles.