De Ronde 2017 – How a classic edition was won
The 101st edition of the De Ronde Van Vlaanderen was built up to be a classic race – and it did not disappoint.
All the pre-race talk had been about two men; world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
However, in an almost unprecedented move, it was the Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) who continued his incredible form to solo to victory from 55km out.
This, though, by no means tells the story of a race that had heartbreak, jubilation and a dramatic late crash.
Cycling journalists Carl Berteele and Jose De Cauwer had talked to Sports Gazette in the build up to the race about how, in their view, we are seeing a new style of cycling where attacks from the Peloton are happening earlier and earlier. And this was certainly the case.
The Muur van Geraardsbergen was reinstated in the race parcour for the first time since 2011, albeit in the middle of the race.
The Quick-Step Floors team, lead by a determined Tom Boonen, attacked the bunch on the Muur, 96km from the finish and created a breakaway group of 14 riders which included his teammates Gilbert and Matteo Trentin.
The group quickly pulled out a minute gap on the chasing group which included defending champion Sagan and pre-race favourite Van Avermaet.
With three riders in the leading group, Quick-Step Floors were in a dominant position and so it was a shock when, on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, Gilbert attacked.
While the Sagan group reeled in the Boonen group, Gilbert managed to escape and soon had a lead of just over a minute.
The next big moment came on the Taaienberg, and it was a moment which broke hearts among cycling fans, not only in Flanders, but all over the world.
Tom Boonen, three times champion and competing in his final De Ronde had a mechanical problem and had to wait for what seemed like an eternity for two bike replacements – effectively ending his race.
It was also at this moment that a group of seven riders including Sagan and Van Avermaet rode away from the peloton in pursuit of Gilbert.
The chase, though, soon turned to disaster.
On the final ascent of the Paterberg, Sagan seemed to ride in a loose fan boarding, bringing down Belgian duo Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen with him.
A hushed silence ensued while fans and reporters waited for the two big race favourites to get up and ride off, but only Van Avermaet was able to.
The fall clearly shook Sagan and all he could do was coast to the finish, denying him a second successive De Ronde victory.
The crash helped to give Gilbert some leeway out in front and, although the chasers rode hard, he imposingly time trialled his way to an amazing 29 second victory to add to his already impressive list of Palmares.
Van Avermaet won the sprint for second place, beating Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) who filled the final place on the podium.