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Having made it into a front trio with Stybar and Sagan, Thomas attacked his rivals with 4km to go and soloed his way to the win in E3 Harelbeke; Stybar took second while Trentin won the sprint for third

Photo: Sirotti

E3 HARELBEKE

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GERAINT THOMAS

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MATTEO TRENTIN

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TEAM SKY

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ZDENEK STYBAR

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27.03.2015 @ 18:04 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One month after Ian Stannard’s win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Geraint Thomas continued Sky’s dominance in the cobbled classics when he took the biggest win of his career at the E3 Harelbeke. Having attacked hard on the Oude Kwaremont, he joined forces with Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) before he launched a well-timed attack with 4km to go to solo away to the victory while Stybar and Matteo Trentin completed the podium.

 

Team Sky have been known for their dominance in stage races but they have had a hard time in the classics. This year, however, it seems that they have turned things around and the first indication was given when Ian Stannard defended his title in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

 

Today the British team confirmed that they are now a force to be reckoned with on the cobbles when they won the first WorldTour race on the pave, E3 Harelbeke. This time Stannard played a domestique role and instead it was Geraint Thomas who took the biggest win of his career.

 

Going into the race, the Welshman had claimed to be in the best form of his life and he was the designated captain of a very strong Sky team. They clearly showed their intentions by riding close to the front all day before their captain kicked into action on the Oude Kwaremont with a little less than 40km to go.

 

After Marcus Burghardt had set the pace for BMC, the Brit made a big attack that only Zdenek Stybar could match. The pair distanced the rest while Peter Sagan joined forces with Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) and Daniel Oss (BMC) to form a chase trio.

 

The Slovakian showed impressive strength when he bridged the gap before the top and the trio passed Dries Devenyns (IAM) who was the only remaining rider from the early escape. Behind a chase group with the rest of the pre-race favourites was formed and as BMC had Oss, Greg Van Avermaet and Jempy Drucker in the group, they started to work immediately.

 

More riders, including Marcus Burghardt (BMC), joined from behind but it was left to the four BMC riders to do all the work. That didn’t really work as the front trio managed to extend their advantage to 40 seconds with 25km to go.

 

Alexander Kristoff was in the group and so Alexandr Kolobnev and Luca Paolini started to work with the BMC team. Later Zico Waeytens (Giant-Alpecin) and Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo) also came to the fore and it was a dramatic pursuit where the gap constantly hovered between 0.25 and 1.00.

 

The decisive moment came when Van Avermaet slid out in a turn and so BMC stopped their work. As it was now left mostly to Katusha to do the work, it was apparent that the winner would be one from the front trio.

 

The group worked well together until Thomas made his move just after the 5km to go banner. Stybar waited for Sagan to close it down but quickly realized that the Slovakian was on his limit. Hence, the Czech made his own attack and easily distanced the defending champion who had cracked.

 

However, Stybar constantly lost ground to Thomas who had plenty of time to celebrate his solo win. The Czech held on to take second while Sagan was caught by the chase group and instead it was Matteo Trentin who took the final spot on the podium after winning the bunch sprint.

 

Earlier in the race Fabian Cancellara (Trek) had crashed out of the race and with two broken vertebrae, his classics season is over.

 

The cobbled classics season takes a rest day tomorrow before the riders will be back in action for Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem where a number of sprinters will join the field.

 

17 hellingen on a classic course

The 2015 edition of E3 Harelbeke was held on a classic 215.3km course that started and finished in Harelbeke. After a mostly flat first 100km with only 2 hellingen, the race entered the Flemish Ardennes for the difficult finale. Here the riders tackled no less than 15 small climbs and a few cobbled sectors too. The key climbs were expected to be the Eikenberg, Taaienberg, Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont, with the latter coming 38km from the finish. From there just 2 smaller climbers remained, with the final ascent coming 19km from the finish.

 

The riders left Harelbeke in rather pleasant weather conditions but rider never got the chance to test himself of the cobbles. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) had fallen ill during the night and stayed in his hotel to recover for Gent-Wevelgem.

 

A break is formed

As it is always the case in the Belgian races, the riders got the race off to a very fast start and it took some time for the early break to get formed. However, the elastic snapped earlier than usual when Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Dries Devenyns (IAM), Sebatien Turgot (Ag2r), Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka), Andrea Dal Col (Southeast) and Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot) got clear.

 

They worked hard to get a bigger gap and after 15km of racing, they were only 25 seconds ahead. However, the peloton now slowed down and as they approached the Kattenberg at the 32km mark, the gap had grown to nearly three minutes.

 

Big crash with several favourites

On the Haaghoek pave, a big crash brought down lots of pre-race favourites, including Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale), Niccolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida9, Robert Wagner (LottoNL-Jumbo), Andrey Amador, Imanol Erviti, Adriano Malori (Movistar), Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Lars Boom (Astana) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin). The former five were forced to leave the race in an ambulance.

 

At this point, the peloton was 3.45 behind and they had been split in two due to the crash, with a second group having been distanced by 45 seconds. Meanwhile, the escapees had hit the Paddestraat cobbles where Turgot and Sbaragli had a hard time keeping up with their companions.

 

Cancellara abandons

Etixx-QuickStep and LottoNL-Jumbo were setting the pace in the first peloton while the second group with Cancellara, Boom and Degenkolb rejoined them. They were now 4.50 behind the escapees.

 

Gert Dockx and Vergard Breen (Lotto Soudal) were the next two riders to leave the race but the big drama happened when Cancellara stepped off the bike with pain in his wrist. Meanwhile, the peloton was licking its wound and while Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) rode on the front, the gap had suddenly ballooned to 8.45.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo start to chase

Tinkoff-Saxo started to work with Tjallingii and things didn’t get any easier for the peloton when they had to stop at a railroad crossing. The gap reached more than 9 minutes but as the peloton again got going, the fight for position really started as they were now getting to the hilly zone.

 

With 100km to go, the gap was down to just 5.50 as David Boucher (FDJ) led the peloton in the hard fight as they approached the first climb of the Eikenberg. That climbed proved to be too much for Dal Col who was dropped from the peloton.

 

Boom abandons

While Lars Boom and Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) abandoned the race, Katusha hit the front on the climb, with Paolini, Kolobnev and Viacheslav Kuznetsov doing the work. Riders were now struggling at the back and in the big fight for position on the descne, Bernhard Eisel (Sky) and William Bonnet (FDJ) went down.

 

Guillaume van Keirsbulck hit the front for Etixx-QuickStep but it was Oss who attacked as soon as they hit the Taaienberg. The Italian was joined by Trentin and Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) and after the top, Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) also managed to make it across.

 

Katusha shuts it down

The quartet worked well together while the peloton had split in two bigger groups who merged a little later. After a few attacks had been shut down by Sagan, Katusha started to chase with Sven Erik Bystrøm.

 

Their efforts paid off and with 82km to go, the Oss group was caught. This opened the door for new attacks, with Andriy Grivko (Astana), Drucker, Gert Steegmans (Trek), Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Silvan Dillier (BMC) being among the many riders making attempts.

 

Grivko attacks

Keisse and Elia Viviani (Sky) took control as the fight for positioning was still intense. However, they couldn’t stop Grivko from attacking on the Knokteberg and he was joined by Yoann Offredo (FDJ) and Damien Gaudin (Ag2r).

 

After Laurens De Vreese (Astana) and Kristijan Koren (Cannondale) had tried to bridge the gap, Van Keirsbulck and Nikolai Trusov (Tinkoff-Saxo) hit the front. With Trusov and Mørkøv working hard, the gap had come down to 2.25 with 66km to go.

 

A fight for position

On the Rotelenberg, Turgot was dropped from the front group while Yves Lampaert started to ride for Etixx-QuickStep. The Grivko trio had now been brought back and instead Koren made a solo move.

 

Mørkøv and Van Keirsbulck worked in the big fight for position while Koren had reduced his deficit to just 1.15 while the peloton was at 2.35 with 55km to go. Giant-Alpecin took over as they approached the Paterberg and this spelled the end for Koren.

 

Vanmarcke attacks

Sky hit the front with Salvatore Puccio while van Ginneken was dropped from the front group on the Kapelberg. While Matteo Tosatto took over for Tinkoff-Saxo, the elimination from the back had now started.

 

As soon as they hit the Paterberg, Devenyns launched a big attack and he easily distanced De Bie and Sbaragli. Further back, it was Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) who attacked in the peloton but as he had to unclip, Oss took over.

 

Thomas makes his attack

At the top, Oss and Jack Bauer (Cannondale) had a small gap over Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) before a 9-rider group with those three riders, Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, Stybar, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Sagan and Paolini was formed. More riders joined them and this set the scene for attacks from Van Avermaet, Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep), Kristoff and Vanmarcke.

 

Marcus Burghardt led them onto the Oude Kwaremont but it was Thomas who launched the big attack. While he was joined by Stybar, Sagan, Oss and Vandenbergh formed a chase trio from which the former bridged the gap to Thomas and Stybar who had passed Devenyns.

 

BMC lead the chase

Vanmarcke, Kristoff, Oss, Bauer, Van Avermaet, Boasson, Chavanel, Bauer, Degenkolb, Drucker, Vandenbergh, Terpstra, Marcato formed the chase group and the two BMC riders immediately started to work. They caught Devenyns but from behind, two bigger groups rejoined them.

 

Oss, Drucker and Burghart worked hard in the group that was now made up of Breschel, Bodnar, Vandenbergh, Terpstra, Trentin, Lampaert, Benoot, Roelandts, Bozic, Van Avermaet, Oss, Burghardt, Drucker, Offredo, Chavanel, Keukeleire, Bauer, Van Baarle, Degenkolb, Waeytens, Kristoff, Kolobnev, Paolini, Vanmarcke, Tankink, Rowe, Stannard, Marcato, Leukemans, Gatto, Boasson Hagen, and Jerome. With 34km to go, the gap was 16 seconds but as they hit the penultimate climb, it was 25 seconds.

 

Katusha start to chase

Offredo made a short-lived attack but BMC shut it down immediately. However, they were still losing ground and with 24km to go, they were 40 seconds behind.

 

Kolobnev now also started to work for Katusha while the riders hit the Tiegemberg. With Oss taking some massive turns, the gap came down to 30 seconds but the momentum was lost when Benoot, Van Avermaet, Terpstra and Bauer attacked.

 

Van Avermaet goes down

Benoot started to work for Lotto Soudal and the gap was now only 20 seconds. As Van Avermaet went down, however, the group came to a standstill and the gap was suddenly a minute.

 

Kolobnev, Paolini, Tankink and Waeytens were now working on the front but when the latter two cracked, the group again came to a standstill. Offredo, Benoot, Lampaert and Kolobnev made a small attack before Paolini and Kolobnev again started to work.

 

With 6km to go, the gap was still 40 seconds and it was now clear that the winner would come from the front trio. Moments later, Thomas broke the cooperation with what turned out to be the race-winning move.

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