The final day of the race was one for the sprinters, with a quality field including Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Pascal Ackerman (BORA-hansgrohe), Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic) and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels) all vying to take home the win in the final kilometres.
Lotto Soudal and Deceuninck-QuickStep duelled in the final kilometres, with the battle of the Belgian squads ultimately won by QuickStep as they led out Cavendish with Davide Ballerini passing the reins to Michael Mørkøv, who pushed hard into the final two hundred metres.
Alpecin-Fenix and Tim Merlier were coming fast on the opposite side of the road, but they were disrupted by Jasper de Buyst peeling off directly into Jonas Rickaert in the final few hundred metres. It was a drag race to the line from there, with Cavendish and Merlier neck and neck for the next two hundred metres, the former just having enough power to outlast his younger challenger to the finish with Ackermann third.
“Quite a hectic finale today, which was normal, as every team wanted to be there and fight for positioning and for the win, but I had a superb team around me, with the boys doing everything to keep me at the front," said Cavendish. "We knew what we had to do and we did it, and I couldn’t have asked for more. When you have these guys in front of you – Styby, Remco, Iljo, Lampy, Davide, Michael – it’s… What more could I say?
"It’s my first time in the Belgium Tour and to win here, against so many sprinters who will be at the Tour de France in two weeks, makes this victory even more beautiful. I’m incredibly happy!”
The good news continued for Deceuninck-QuickStep as Remco Evenepoel wrapped up the overall title, finishing just over 40 seconds ahead of teammate Yves Lampaert. The 21-year-old continues to write history, as he became the youngest rider to take multiple GC wins at the Belgium Tour, the second-oldest stage race in the world.
The Belgian youngster laid down the foundation of his victory on the very first day of the race, when a long-range attack in the Flemish Ardennes blew the peloton to pieces, and cemented it twenty-four hours later, in the race’s short individual time trial. The race represented a comeback of sorts after he abandoned the Giro d'Italia, that race itself a return from a long lay-off with injury after his horrific crash at the Giro Il Lombardia in 2020.
“It’s a big relief. After a long injury and a long way back it’s very special to win again, to know that you’re back where you were before," said Evenepoel. "It’s a confirmation of the fact that we worked hard to return to this level and of the support I got from the team, which is something I am very grateful for.
"Winning the Belgium Tour again and especially that ITT is also a mental boost ahead of the National Championships and shows it was a good decision to do this race, as it showed the progress I have made."
Evenepoel was full of praise for his team and Cavendish who claimed the 151st UCI victory of his career as Evenepoel took his 16th in his burgeoning palmares.
“We fought hard and we worked hard, and at the end of the day Cav showed why he is the best sprinter in history," said Evenepoel. "He is an amazing athlete and a real champion, and you could see that not just today, when he took the win, but also on the previous stages, when he worked for me.”
Cavendish was a late replacement for Sam Bennett at the Belgium Tour after the Irishman pulled out late with a knee injury, and speculation is now mounting as to whether the Manxman will get a chance to add to his tally of 30 stage wins at the Tour de France, starting in two weeks time.
Every moment of the 2021 Tour de France will be live on SBS, with the ŠKODA Tour Tracker app, SBS TV and the SBS Cycling Central the place to be to catch all the pulsating action from France from June 26 to July 18.