An impressive breakout success: the Italian Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) claimed his first professional win at 25 years of age, dominating the Ronde van Vlaanderen in style on Sunday. He built his victory with a spectacular attack on the iconic
ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and took the solo win ahead of another youngster, the Dane Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step). The 2015 winner, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) outsprinted the favorites to take his sixth top five finish at
Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu) had claimed a first Italian triumph of the day earlier in the afternoon, winning the women's race in Oudenaarde ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla Team).
Massive crowds gathered as usual in Antwerpen for the start of the men’s race, while the women were lining up in Oudenaarde. Hugo Houle (Astana), Damien Touzé (Cofidis Solutions Crédits) and Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise)
launched the day’s main breakaway and were joined by Jesper Asselman (Roompot-Charles) after 15km.
While a number of counter-attacks were activating the pack, the gap stayed at around 30 seconds, until the pack let the break get away before the first cobbled challenges. Under a sunny sky, the attackers built a five-minute lead after 40km of racing,
and the gap stabilised at around eight minutes as they entered the last 200km.
The first two cobblestone sectors, Lippenhovstraat and Paddestraat, saw the gap decrease to 6'15". But the first major events happened on the approach to the Oude Kwaremont: Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie), winner of the 2018 Ronde van Vlaanderen, crashed
hard and had to leave the race with 158km remaining. "I'll be back", he said in a reassuring message after being taken to hospital.
The attackers tackled the first of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont with Hugo Houle at the helm and a lead of five minutes. Greeted by huge crowds and the three-time winner Tom Boonen, Tim Declercq and Deceuninck-Quick Step drove the peloton at a very
hard pace. They slowed down after the ascent, only to accelerate again in the last 200km.
As the riders went from cobble sectors to punishing climbs, the situation heated between the favorites in the Berendries, and then increasingly on the infamous Muur-Kapelmuur. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) accelerated, a group of around 40 riders got away
in a first split. Former winner Kristoff found himself among the riders at the back inside the last 100km.
The early attackers were caught with 92km to go, while the first group was opening a one-minute gap to the rest of the pack. At the front, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) was accelerating again and again, but things settled and most of the contenders were
together again with 65km remaining, the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont looming.
The rookie Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), winner of Dwars van Vlaanderen on Wednesday, sustained a mechanical and a spectacular tumble with 59km remaining, but managed to get back on his bike. Stijn Vandenbergh (AG2R La Mondiale) and Sep Vanmarcke
(EF Education First) accelerated up the Oude Kwaremont ahead of the final showdown. They were joined by Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step) on the Paterberg, and Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky) soon bridged the gap too while Vandenbergh was dropped.
Meanwhile, Van der Poel had made his way back to the main group.
The leading trio held on, on the Taaienberg and tackled the Kruisberg and the last 30km with a lead of 30 seconds – which was enough to fend off accelerations from Wout van Aert and Bob Jungels. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step) couldn't hold
on and was dropped, 27km from home. At the front, Vanmarcke was dropped but Van Baarle and Asgreen kept going on the way to the decisive ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg in the final 20km.
Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) made the most of the Oude Kwaremont and went solo at the front. Atop the Paterberg, with 14km to go, he enjoyed a 15-second gap over 14 chasers led by Van der Poel. On his way to his first major success, Bettiol didn't
falter and resisted all the way to the finish line. Kasper Asgreen accelerated again to claim his first podium finish on a Monument at the age of 24, and Kristoff dominated the sprint behind them. “I cannot believe it”, Bettiol said at
the finish. “That was the longest 14km of my life”
The Tuscan rider echoed Alessandro Ballan's victory on the 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen. But his compatriot Marta Bastianelli had already freshened up the Italian record in Flanders with her own victory earlier in the afternoon in the women's race. The European Champion, who had already showed an impressive form in the recent classics, got away on the Paterberg with Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla Team). She then showed she was the strongest of the bunch in the final sprint in a day of powerful Italian performances.