Greg Van Avermaet nailed his claim to the Ronde van Vlaanderen mast with his first ever victory at E3 Harelbeke. In an all Belgian, three-up finale that practically came down to a track stand, the BMC captain had the quickest fast-twitch muscles. Surging past Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who finished third, and keeping at bay a fast-finishing Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step Floors) for second.
Rider of the Race
It could really be any of the top three. Van Avermaet for adding this race to his Omloop victory and for keeping his cool and using his race brain and power when he needed it. Gilbert for making the early selection on the Paterberg and attacking on Tiegemberg all leading to his second podium in three days. However, I am going to go for Oliver Naesen.
Naesen and Van Avermaet often train together.
Long touted as ‘one to watch in the spring races’ the young Belgian – who only turned professional in 2015 – was impressive today. It was his surge on the Oude Kwaremont that made the winning selection. He showed real grit and resolution to return when he distanced by Gilbert’s attack on the Tiegemberg. If he was nervous in the company of an Olympic Champion and Belgian Champion he certainly didn’t show it. In the final kilometres he bluffed with the best of them, only coming through when he had to, and ignoring what looked like a real ear bashing at times. He gave himself every chance as they jockeyed for position under the flamme rouge, placing himself at the back of the group as Gilbert rode on the front looking over his shoulder like a track sprinter. He jumped first but it was too early and they came around him.
When I attacked on the Oude Kwaremont, I saw that they were both able to follow. I knew that we would be fast enough to stay away. We rode all the way, to the last kilometre where things became tactical. I tried to surprise them, but I knew I was not the best. I finished in my place. I believed I could win, but there were just 20 meters too many.
The trusted Lieutenants
I just love the rhythm of these races. The fight for position as each of the hellingen hoves into view. That feeling that it is ALL going to go down any time soon. It’s the trusted lieutenants who have to ensure their captains get into the right place at the right time.
Daniel Oss (BMC) just rocks it every single time. He was ferociously strong, keeping Van Avermaet at the front in the fight at the Paterberg. Then, once his man was away in the winning move, he rode shotgun in the chase group. Just chilling on the front and disrupting any organisation that was tried. We LOVE him.
At the other end of the scale, spare a thought for Trek’s Fabio Felline. All of their riders missed the crucial move and he was frustrated at every turn trying to organise a chase. [Or as Fabs would say ‘A shit day of #unluck’ – ed]
Michael Valgren (Astana) is tackling his first cobbled classics season. He finished 6th today, he seems to be enjoying it…I think.
1 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) 4:48:17
2 Philippe Gilbert Quick Step Floors) s/t
3 Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) s/t
4 Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) +0:40
5 Lukas Postleberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) +0:41
Header image:Podium © Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images