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Having joined Terpstra in a two-rider attack just after the Kruisberg, Kristoff was clearly the strongest rider in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and easily beat his companion in the sprint; Van Avermaet completed the podium

Photo: Tim De Waele / Team Katusha

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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NIKI TERPSTRA

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RONDE VAN VLAANDEREN

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05.04.2015 @ 19:30 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) added a second monument to his growing palmares when he took a hugely impressive win in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Being clearly the strongest rider in the race, he joined Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) in an attack just after the Kruisberg and despite doing most of the work in the final 25km, he still had enough left in the tank to win the two-rider sprint. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) completed the podium.

 

Last year Alexander Kristoff gave the impression that he was the strongest rider in the Ronde van Vlaanderen but having suffered a bit at an earlier point, he never made it back to the lead group and had to settle for fifth. This year he was again the strongest rider in the Flemish monument and this time there was no one denying the brutally strong Norwegian.

 

Going into the race, people had wondered whether Kristoff would be able to follow the best on the climbs and there was a general consensus that he needed to ride conservatively if he wanted to win the race. However, the Katusha leader took most by surprise when he decided to go on the attack early in the race.

 

After the main group had been significantly whittled down on the Taaienberg, he found himself in a 26-rider group containing most of the favourites by the time they hit the Kruisberg with 25km to go. Being isolated, he knew that it would be hard to control the many attacks and so he quickly reacted when Niki Terpstra attacked near the top.

 

Kristoff didn’t hesitate for a moment and fully committed to the move. Despite several teams – Astana, Giant-Alpecin, Lotto Soudal, BMC and Sky – working hard in the second group, the front duo worked well together to build an advantage of 30 seconds by the time they hit the key climb of the Oude Kwaremont.

 

Full of confidence, Kristoff hit the climb in the front position and he managed to dig deep when Terpstra made the expected acceleration. Behind Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) got clear but they quickly started to fade and shortly after the top, they were back in the small main group.

 

In that group, only Greg Van Avermaet had a teammate at his side and so it was left to Daniel Oss to try to keep the distance. However, the gap had gone back out from 15 to 30 seconds by the time, the riders hit the final climb of the Paterberg.

 

Most were expecting Terpstra to attack but the Dutchman was clearly on his limit as Kristoff set a brutal pace. Meanwhile, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) attacked out of the chase group before Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) made a big surge to join him.

 

Terpstra and Kristoff were still working well together but Van Avermaet and Sagan were getting closer. They managed to reduce the gap to 15 seconds before they again started to lose ground. Further back, there was no cooperation in the big chase group where no one had any teammates at his side and so it were constant attacks that never brought them back in contention.

 

Terpstra was clearly on his limit and it was Kristoff who took the longest turns in the front duo. With 5km to go, they were 25 seconds ahead while the chase group was at 40 seconds.

 

With 3km to go, the gaps were 20 and 30 seconds respectively and now Terpstra refused to work with the big Norwegian. Hence, Kristoff was forced to ride on the front to keep the chasers at bay. However, he single-handedly managed to keep them at 15 seconds by the time they hit the flamme rouge.

 

While Van Avermaet distanced Sagan with a big attack, it was clear that the front duo would sprint for the win. Kristoff was constantly looking over his shoulder until Terpstra finally launched his effort. However, the Dutchman was never even close to passing the Norwegian who easily rode away to his second monument win before Van Avermaet rolled across the line in third.

 

Lars Boom (Astana) had fought his way back from a puncture before attacking out of the lead group. He was joined by neo-pro Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) who did an amazing performance by beating the Dutchman in the sprint for fifth before John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal), Stybar and Martin Elmiger (IAM) led the big group home.

 

Kristoff will have a chance to take a third monument win next Sunday when Paris-Roubaix ends the cobbled classics season. Before then, however, he will line up in Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs which is the next big classic on the calendar. The WorldTour action resumes tomorrow when the Vuelta al Pais Vasco kicks off in Spain.

 

A hilly course

The 99th Ronde van Vlaanderen was held on a course that was very similar to the one used for the previous edition. The riders travelled over 264.2km from Brugge to Oudenaarde and after the usual long, flat start, they hit the serious part of the race when they reached the Tiegemberg after 87.2km of racing. From there, the total of 19 climbs came in quick succession but it was the series Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg-Koppenberg-Steenbeekdries-Taaienberg that started with 55km to go that was expected to create the first big selection. After having done the Kruisberg, the riders tackled the Kwaremont-Paterberg combination again before they followed the final 13.2 flat kilometres to the finish in Oudenaarde.

 

The riders had perfect conditions for the start when they gathered in Brügge for the official start early in the morning. Due to a peaceful farmer’s protest, the start was postponed by 15 minutes but that didn’t make for a less animated start when the riders had finished their 9.2km of neutral zone.

 

Lot of early attacks

Shane Archbold (Bora-Argon 18) attacked as soon as the flag was dropped and he was joined by Tony Hurel (Europcar), Jarlo Salomein (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo). Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) joined the move too but when a Roompot rider and Gert Joeaar (Cofidis) made the junction, the group was caught.

 

Gougeard tried again but still had no luck and instead one of his teammates, Brutt and a rider from Roompot attacked. They were also brought back and now it was Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Robert Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Joeaar and riders from Ag2r and Roompot who went on the attack.

 

A group gets clear

That move was not the right one and then it was Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida; Gouegard and Dayer Quintana (Movistar) who made an unsuccessful move. Tim Kerkhof (Roompot) briefly got clear on his own but he was brought back too

 

The attacking continued for a while until 6 riders escaped after 20km of racing. Dylan Groenewegen (Roompot), Jesse Sergent (Trek), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r), Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18), Clement Venturini (Cofidis) and Matthew Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka) built an advantage of 20 seconds while Jerome Pineau (IAM) made an unsuccessful attempt to bridge the gap.

 

Bak and Frapporti bridge the gap

Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) was the next who tried to join the leader and he picked up Venturini who had been distanced. Those two riders dangled 20 seconds behind the leaders for some time while the peloton started to lose ground and had been distanced by 50 seconds after one hour of fast racing.

 

Bak dropped Venturini and instead he was joined by Marco Frapporti (Androni). While the peloton slowed down, those two riders joined the leaders to form a 7-rider group that was 3.32 ahead after 50km of racing.

 

The gap comes down

The peloton was in no hurry and so the gap went out to almost 7 minutes before Sky decided that it was time to control the situation. Christian Knees hit the front and for a long time he single-handedly kept the gap between 6 and 7 minutes.

 

There was still no stress when the riders tackled the first climb of the Tiegemberg but as they approached the Oude Kwaremont for the first time, the fight for position got intense. As a consequence, the gap came down to less than 6 minutes while Bak led the front group up the cobbled slope.

 

Wiggins goes down

As the peloton approached the climb, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Alexander Porsev (Katusha) who had briefly worked with Knees on the front, went down. While the Russian was quickly back on the bike, the Brit needed a new bike and he spent a big part of the race near the back of the group.

 

On the climb, Etixx-QuickStep tightened the screws slightly with Iljo Keisse after Sky had set the pace on the lower slopes. As they crested the summit, Preben van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) attacked and he dangled a few metres ahead for a while before he was brought back.

 

IAM take control

Sky again took control of the peloton with Knees but they again allowed the gap to go out to 6.20. As they finished the Eikenberg, however, it was IAM who took over with Matthias Brändle setting a fast pace that caused the gap to come down quickly.

 

Brändle got some help from his teammate Reto Hollenstein and when they approached the Molenberg, the gap was down to just 4.20. Meanwhile, Bak was briefly distancing his companions on the steep slopes.

 

Greipel attacks

Sky won the fight for position with Bernhard Eisel and he led the group onto the climb. Here Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) launched the first of many attacks and he was joined by Nikolas Maes, Luke Rowe, Mathew Hayman, Marco Haller, Marcus Burghardt and later also Maartens Wynants and Matti Breschel. They were brought back though and so Greipel went again. This time he got a small gap but as he got no company he decided to wait for the peloton in which Peter Sagan had to chase back from a puncture.

 

The gap was now down to 3.20 but as the peloton slowed down, it went back out to 4.05. Etixx-QuickStep briefly chased with Keisse before Knees again took over.

 

Sergent taken out of the race by neutral service car

Frapporti had briefly been dropped from the break but it was Sergent who was the first to disappear from the group for good when he was knocked down by a neutral service car. Meanwhile, riders like Youcef Reguigui, Jacopo Guarnieri, Sjoerd van Ginneken, Johnny Hoogerland and Alexey Tsatevich were among the many riders to crash in the peloton.

 

With 100km to go, the riders hit the Haaghoek pave which had again created a big fight for position. Again Sky had won the battle and it was Bernhard Eisel and Elia Viviani who set the pace on the rough surface.

 

More attacks

With 88km to go, Lotto Soudal played their next card when Stig Broeckx attacked with Christopher Juul (Tinkoff-Saxo). However, they were quickly brought back and Eisel, Viviani and Salvatore Puccio went back to work for Sky.

 

Juul made another attack and was joined by Keisse but Sky quickly shut it down. They also reacted quickly when Maarten Tjallingii, Mickael Delage and Yannick Martinez tried to get clear.

 

Bak attacks

On the Kaperij, Bak accelerated and after Frapporti had been the first to get dropped, he got clear. Gaudin managed to bridge the gap while Degenkolb fought back to the peloton from a puncture. For some time, Matzka was in lone pursuit of the front duo but he never made it back.

 

After another neutral service car had driven straight into the FDJ car that had stopped to assist Sebastien Chavanel, Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport) attacked with Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Juul. Broeckx and Martinez took off in pursuit while Viviani, Rowe and Eisel continued to work in the peloton.

 

A dangerous group gets clear

On the Kanarieberg with 70km to go, Greipel attacked again and he bridged the gap to Broeckx and Martinez who made it across to the Juul trio. Later Mirko Selvaggi (Wanty), Björn Thurau (Bora-Argon 18), Silvan Dillier (BMC), Guillaume van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep) and Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) also bridged the gap as they picked up Frapporti, Matzka, Groenewegen and Brammeier.

 

Sky were now riding hard in the peloton which was just 2.05 behind the leaders. However, the fight for position was now intense as they approached the Kwaremont for the second time and that spelled the end for the Greipel group with 60km to go.

 

Lampaert play with the muscles

Orica-GreenEDGE led the group onto the narrow road as Docker had now tacken control. The fast pace had brought the gap down to 45 seconds but as they slowed down on the small road, Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Michael Schär (BMC) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Sodual) attacked.

 

Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) and Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) bridged the gap on the climb after Mathew Hayman and Edward Theuns had tried to make a similar move. Lampaert, Debusschere and Cimolai got clear but when they reached the summit, they were caught.

 

Gaudin gets clear

Bak and Gaudin were now only 20 seconds ahead as Lampaert continued to set the pace for Etixx-QuickStep. On the Paterberg, Gaudin dropped the Dane while Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) made an attack. Van Kerisbulck took over the pace-setting and when they reached the top, Chavanel and Bak had been brought back while the peloton had splintered to pieces and was down to just 50 riders.

 

Greipel started to work and brought back a small attack from Elmiger and with 49km to go, it was also over for Van Avermaet. A group with Wiggins managed to rejoin the main group which slowed down and so Greipel attacked again.

 

The Koppenberg does some damage

The German champion entered the Koppenberg with a small gap while Trentin, Ladagnous and Tsatevich went down in the turn that led onto the climb. Stijn Devolder (Trek) accelerated hard and when he reached the summit, only Thomas, Rowe and Elmiger were with him. That group had caught Greipel but as they hit the descent, a 15-rider group gathered.

 

Several more riders rejoined the group and as the pace went down, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) took off. Greipel and Chavanel formed a chase duo before Sky started to work with Rowe and Ian Stannard.

 

Terpstra makes his first move

Demare had to fight back from a puncture while Giant hit the front with Ramon Sinkeldam. He brought Greipel and Chavanel back and his teammate Zico Waeytens led the main group onto the Taaienberg where Lutsenko was caught

 

Marco Marcato (Wanty) and Jack Bauer (Cannondale) attacked but they were quickly passed by Terpstra who made his first move. This forced Thomas to kick into action and he brought the Dutchman back just before the top.

 

Terpstra rejoins the front group

Van Avermaet attacked over the top and was joined by Rowe, Bjorn Leukemans, Benoot and Stybar but they were brought back on the descent. A 15-rider group had now gathered from which Devenyns and Benoot made a small attack before Greipel and Rowe started to work.

 

Terpstra had missed out but together with a few more riders, he managed to join the main group. Meanwhile, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) found himself in the second group that was far back.

 

Terpstra and Kristoff get clear

The group was now down Devolder, Stybar, Benoot, Greipel, Roelandts, Boom, De Vreese, Lutsenko, Drucker, Burghardt Van Avermaet, Oss, Devenyns, Elmiger, Oliveira, Pozzato, Keukeleire, Waeytens, Degenkolb, De Kort, Rowe, Thomas, Sagan, Marcato, Leukemans, Kristoff and Terpstra and Leukemans briefly got clear before Lutsenko, Van Avermaet and Oliveira made a more promising move. Rowe and Greipel started to chase and they brought it back before they hit the Kanarieberg where Leukemans punctured out of the group.

 

Oliveira made a small attack before Drucker upped the pace for BMC. Oliveira attacked again but near the top he was passed by Terpstra and Kristoff. The pair started to get clear while Thomas blew up in his quest to shut it down.

 

The chase gets organized

Vanmarcke was trying to bridge the gap on the climbs but he also blew up near the top and never made it back. Meanwhile, Terpstra and Kristoff extended their advantage and forced Rowe, Greipel and Oliveira to chase.

 

As the gap had gone out to 30 seconds with 20km to go, Astana and BMC started to work with De Vreese, Lutsenko and Drucker before Giant-Alpecin also lend a hand with De Kort and Waeytens. When they hit the Kwaremont, however, the gap was still 30 seconds and from here the exciting finale started.

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