The 101st edition of the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen came down to a bunch sprint.
Etixx – Quick-Step was in the thick of the action from the very first lap of the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen (192.4 kilometers), sending Nikolas Maes and Guillame Van Keirsbulck in the original escape of the day, which went on to open a 4-minute lead over a peloton who found itself split at one point, before a regroupment took place with around 60 kilometers to go.
Despite that, it continued to rain with attacks from the bunch, Fernando Gaviria being among those who moved away to test the waters. The 22-year-old Colombian, who was racing for the second time in the past two months, got involved in several other attacks throughout the day and even though neither of these sticked, he continued to work for the team and pull at the front, spending a considerable amount of energy.
Marcel Kittel, the team's designated leader for the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen, stayed at all times during the race in the upper part of the pack, dutifully protected by his teammates, but was forced to abandon in the closing laps, due to stomach problems, which led to a change of strategy from the team. Fernando Gaviria took over sprinting duties in the hectic final kilometers, which saw Etixx – Quick-Step reel in Truls Korsaeth (Joker) with under one kilometer to go, and finished a close second, behind Timothy Dupont (Verandas Willems).
Fernando, winner of five races in his maiden year in the pro ranks, is the first Colombian to conclude in the top 3 the Belgian race which this year celebrated its 101st edition, and his ride and result on Friday earned praise from sport director Rik van Slycke.
"Today, the team supported Marcel Kittel and tried to make the race harder, by splitting the peloton in the wind and pushing a high pace. Unfortunately, with three laps to go, Marcel had stomach pain and had to stop. It's a pity, because he was in good condition and we were very confident in his chances", said Van Slycke. "Immediately, we rallied behind Fernando, who already did a strong race by that point, by getting involved in several moves and pulling at the front of the bunch to catch the escapees. Fernando missed a little bit in the finale, which is quite normal, because he has just returned from a long break, but tomorrow brings another opportunity in GP Impanis-Van Petegem and we'll try again."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele