After 270km of racing, a podium of surprises brought a close to the Tour of Flanders 2019. EF-Too-Many-Words’ Alberto Bettiol took the Classics world by storm, soloing to his first ever professional victory. Deceuninck-Quickstep’s 24-year-old Kasper Asgreen, a late addition to the squad, snuck away to claim second while Alexander Kristoff brought home the group of favourites to claim third.
I have a bit of a soft spot for EF-All-The-Words, so I will do my best to contain myself as I recap this race. There were some grumbles about how the race ended, but I think it is fair to say that we can agree on two things. First, anyone winning who isn’t Alejandro Valverde is a reason to celebrate. Second, the group of favourites didn’t organise and work together to chase Bettiol, and that’s their fault. Bettiol took his chance – and it paid off.
The peloton was nervy for most of the day, especially when the climbs started, but it was really within the final 60km that the race began to come to life! With the second time on the Oude-Kwaremont approaching, it all kicked off with a flurry of attacks, some posing serious danger. Behind them there was chaos – chaos that quite simply didn’t ever really resolve itself.
Sep Vanmarcke (EF) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r) were the first key duo to go. The two Belgians were later joined by Dane Kasper Asgreen (Quickstep) and Dylan van Baarle (Sky). With a steady gap between 20 and 30 seconds and a seemingly uncommitted chasing peloton, it momentarily looked like this could be the winning move.
However, Flanders giveth and it taketh away. Eventually, Vandenbergh began to suffer, Vanmarcke faded, and Asgreen and van Baarle were reeled in. With the kilometres ticking down and Valverde still in the peloton, the worry began to creep in – could we see a Valverde win in his first Flanders?
Before the winning attack came, a slew of activity from teams that some of us weren’t aware existed in the month of April took over.
After the van Baarle group was reeled in and the 15 minutes of Valverde worry passed, EF stepped up and brought the hammer to Flanders. On the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, Alberto Bettiol set off in pursuit of victory. With Vanmarcke and Sebastian Langevald in the group behind, the young Italian churned his legs over the Paterberg with only a handful of seconds separating him from the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) Matthieu van der Poel, among others.
As often happens in these types of situations, however, the group of favourites failed to organise a cohesive chase and with teammate Seb Langeveld cleverly disrupting any rotation, Bettiol’s gap climbed to over 20 seconds.
With a near nonexistent chase behind, Bettiol flew under the 1km to go banner with a healthy margin, securing his first ever professional win and bringing the Slipstream organisation its first Monument win since 2014 – that being Liege-Bastogne-Liege by Dan Martin. While some bemoaned the finish, others celebrated with delight.
If you don’t think everyone on the team feels a win like this, just watch this little clip of one of EF’s soigneurs having a day she will never forget.
Back in the chase group, Asgreen seemed to effortlessly float away from the chasing group without any reaction from them. The young Dane crossed the line second while Gent-Wevelgem champ Alexander Kristoff (UAE) brought home bronze.
Rider of the Race
Who else could it go to? The rider of the race is, of course, Alberto Bettiol! He attacked at the right moment, rode like he stole it without once looking back. Plus, it is his FIRST EVER professional victory! At FLANDERS! It’s often said that the strongest rider in the race doesn’t always win – and that’s true. Often it takes the boldest rider in the race to step up onto the podium and that was certainly played out today.
An honourable mention has to go to Mathieu van der Poel however. It’s unclear what happened exactly, but the poor gent crashed hard with 60km to go while attempting to stop for a mechanical. At first, it looked like he might have done his collarbone, but after a few minutes of sitting dazed on the pavement, he was back up and then rode and rode and rode and rode …
He’s a tough youngster…
… and as he chased back on to the peloton and then got involved in the main chasing group, he nearly had that podium place, but for being outsprinted by Kristoff. Even after crashing, chasing, and attacking – all in the final 60km – he outsprinted Michael Matthews, Valverde, Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan …. He is the hero cycling needs, not the one we deserve.
Let us also spare a thought for Niki Terpstra, whose Classics season ended with a touch of wheels that made him hit the ground hard, losing consciousness for a few minutes while medical staff rushed to his aid. It is always incredibly scary when the cameras show a rider lying on the road motionless but thankfully the defending Ronde champion regained consciousness and began to move. He is out of next week’s Paris-Roubaix due to concussion – a wise decision by his doctor.
1 Alberto Bettiol (EF-Education First) 6:18:49
2 Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quickstep) +0:14
3 Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) +0:17
4 Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) same time
5 Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) s/t
6 Michael Matthews (Sunweb) s/t
7 Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t
8 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) s/t
9 Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) s/t
10 Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) s/t
Sometimes I get it…
To add to this humble brag… In the first podcast of the season, I predicted that EF would have a blockbuster season. I’d say this qualifies.