Niki Terpstra claimed the second monument of his career, adding the Tour of Flanders to his Paris Roubaix victory to cement his reputation as one of the kings of the cobbles.
Cycling Central

2 Apr 2018 - 2:13 AM  UPDATED 2 Apr 2018 - 6:59 AM

The strongest team in the race dominated the tactics in an attack-filled 2018 edition of the Tour of Flanders. Quickstep Floors used their numbers well as they covered moves and launched attacks, with Terpstra attacking over the top of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) with 28km to go and pulling off a powerhouse performance to drive all the way into the finish.

“When I attacked and set in pursuit of the leaders it wasn’t easy due to the wind, but I kept riding hard," Terpstra said. "Then, when I saw the three, I knew I could catch them, so I kept pushing. In a race like this, you need to make the right attack, and that’s what I did.

"It’s a great year for me, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the team. The guys were extraordinary, they displayed once again their immense quality and I will repay them for their work and effort, be it in Paris-Roubaix or another race. Being part of such a great team means a lot and makes me very proud."

It was a traditionally hectic edition of the Belgian monument as crashes, seemingly never-ending attacks and feats of endurance illuminated the race across the Flemish cobbled roads. 

The early stages of the race saw an 11-rider breakaway form off the front of the peloton which managed to stretch the gap out to a five minute and thirty seconds at their largest advantage, but with the 267km course, it was always going to be near impossible for the break to win.

The main bunch began racing in earnest as the cobbled climbs the race is famous for came in quick succession in the final 150km of the course. Crashes on the slippery surfaces saw pre-race favourites Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale) put on the back foot early on, forced to chase back on multiple times after bad luck.

Australian Mitch Docker (EF Education First-Drapac) had one of the more dramatic moments of the race, crashing into a barbed wire fence and being extricated by fans on the roadside.

With the early break brought back, it was time for the moves of the less marked riders, with Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Sebastien Langeveld (EF Education First-Drapac) surging free after the Paterberg with 60km remaining.

The three cooperated well and held a fluctuating advantage of between 30 seconds and a minute as the peloton surged and stopped behind, with Greg van Avermaet (BMC), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) particularly prominent on the attack.

Following a strong move by Bahrain-Merida teammate Sonny Colbrelli over the top of the Taaienberg, it was Vincenzo Nibali who launched with 28km remaining, to be followed quickly by Terpstra who then counterattacked over the flagging Italian, gradually clawing his way over to the escaped group of three out front. 

Terpstra bridged to the three-man break on the Oude Kwaremont, immediately going to the front to try and drop the front three. Only Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was able to respond, battling to stay within grasp of the flying Terpstra but falling agonisingly short of the QuickStep Floors rider's rear wheel. 

The Dutchman's gap got up to 50 seconds at best over the peloton, as a lot of leaders without support riders weren't prepared to sacrifice to dig deep with two teammates of Terpstra in the group.

Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) was forced to take on a lot of responsibility for the chase, driving the chasing group into the foot of the Paterberg. He used that high pace to explode up the final, steep section of the climb, leaving behind his erstwhile companions and beginning on his pursuit of Terpstra. 

The former Paris-Roubaix winner had a gap of 45 seconds over the top of the final climb of the Paterberg to Sagan, 20 seconds to Pedersen with an 11km run into the finish.

The attack of Sagan initially looked like it might manage to bridge to Pedersen and perhaps even Terpstra, but the world champion's momentum slowed and he was caught by the group behind with Pedersen dangling between Terpstra and the chasers. 

Limited cooperation in the chasing group ensured the race was Terpstra's and a superb show of endurance from 22-year old Dane Pedersen was enough for him to take 2nd place. 

Phillipe Gilbert (QuickStep Floors) capped off a top showing for the home team, covering a late move from Michael Valgren (Astana) then outsprinting the Dane to ensure that there would be two QuickStep Floors riders on the podium.

“We showed again that amazing team spirit, we showed that we are there for our teammates, ready to give everything so that the win lands in the team," Gilbert said.

"The entire squad knew what they had to do and made a perfect race. The strongest rider won today and I’m happy for Niki, he rode a strong and smart race.

"Last year, I won and he came third, this time around, we arrived at the finish in reverse order. We are enjoying a fantastic run of success and hopefully we won’t stop here."