The result may not have been what Van Avermaet was looking for but the Belgian rider once again proved his consistently strong form, as well as his grit and determination on home soil, attacking the final kilometers of the 270.1-kilometer race.
Earlier in the day, the peloton was happy to allow a four-rider breakaway to extend an advantage of more than eight minutes but, approaching the first cobbled section, with 180 kilometers still to go, the gap had settled at around six minutes.
Shortly after, CCC Team moved up to the front of the peloton to defend the interests of Van Avermaet heading into the second half of the race with Kamil Gradek, racing his first Tour of Flanders, and Łukasz Wiśniowski keeping a close eye on proceedings.
Nathan Van Hooydonck, who was also making his debut at the Belgian Monument, then moved up to the front of the peloton just in time to follow a strong attack, which ultimately marked the beginning of the end for the leaders.
On the steep slopes of the Muur – Kapelmuur, with 100km remaining, the gap was down to just over one minute and going over the top of the iconic climb, an intense pace saw splits open up with Van Avermaet making it into the first group of around 30 riders that caught the breakaway with 90 kilometers still to race.
Van Avermaet was initially isolated but, it wasn’t long before the peloton came back together with CCC Team quickly rallying around the team’s leader for the final 60 kilometers of the race, which featured a brutal series of climbs: the Oude-Kwaremont, Paterberg, Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Kruisberg, and then the Oude-Kwaremont and Paterberg once again to finish.
Each of these provided an opportunity to launch an attack and a trio of riders was able to take advantage and go up the road. Van Avermaet was supported strongly by Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Michael Schär at this point before he eventually made the final selection after an aggressive ride inside 35 kilometers to go.
Van Avermaet was one of 17 riders chasing lone leader going onto the finale cobbled climb and the Belgian, who’s intentions were clear at the start line in Antwerp, looked determined as he continued to attack his rivals in an attempt to close the gap.
However, with the group behind starting to look to one another to do the final chasing, Bettiol was able to hold on to take the win while, Van Avermaet, after leaving everything out on the road, sprinted to tenth.
Quotes From the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I was quite good. I was quite happy with my form and I think you saw on the climbs that I was with the best in the race. I tried to make the difference and I did my best to make it as hard as possible but we didn’t have enough gaps, especially on the Paterberg, I was hoping to go after Bettiol with a strong group of riders to close the gap. But, then you know if you come on top with 15 riders, with fast riders, it’s really hard to work together to catch Bettiol back.”
“I knew if I went full gas I would bring a lot of fast guys with me who were not pulling the whole day. It was not my job to bring them to the finish line and let them win Flanders. I tried to do as good as possible and do a good race, but it was not for first place.”
“It broke up pretty fast after the Muur, and I thought it was a good thing for me because I was in the first group. But, I spent some energy and it was for nothing. A big group came back, and then from the second time up the Kwaremont it was really hard, like always. It was really hard to make a big gap on the other climbs. I think a lot of riders are on the same level and it was hard to make the difference. Maybe I would have saved some more energy after the Muur, if you knew how it would end up but in the end, I did the final how I wanted to do.”
Fabio Baldato, Sports Director:
“We did our best today. Everyone gave 100%. We knew it would be hard when Greg was alone in that final group of 25 riders. That was final selection though and of course up until that point, the team was working really well together for Greg. In the end, it was a strange race with a lot of fast riders still in the group of favorites and they were able to survive the final climbs. It wasn’t the best situation for Greg.”
“Greg went full gas on the final ascent of the Paterberg because he knew he needed to try to go clear with a smaller group. He was almost able to do that but then the group came back together and then it played nicely into Bettiol’s hands. We knew that Greg was one of the strongest but looking back, I think we can say that the race really controlled and it wasn’t as hard as expected.”
One-day race: Antwerp > Oudenaarde (270.1k)
Top 3: 1. Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First Pro Cycling) 2. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) 3. Alexander Kristoff (UAE – Team Emirates)
CCC Team Top 3: 10. Greg Van Avermaet 61. Nathan Van Hooydonck 66. Michael Schär