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Having shown his strong early season form in the Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and then in Milan-San Remo, Geraint Thomas capped off a perfect day for his Sky team when he soloed to what is arguably his biggest career success, victory in the E3 Harelbeke race.
On a day when team-mate Ben Swift won stage two of the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali and Ricie Porte took over race leadership in the Volta a Catalunya, Thomas got clear with Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) on the Oude Kwaremont, 41 kilometres from the finish.
He then attacked the other two just over four kilometres from the end.
“I thought if I could hit them a bit earlier I could take them a bit by surprise, hopefully get a gap and then they got to look at each other,” he explained. “It worked out perfectly, really. I can’t believe it.”
Thomas has a strong history in track racing, having taken gold medals in the Olympic Games and world championship team pursuit races, and his solo move was over the same distance.
“I just imagined I was trying to hold Ed Clancy’s wheel in a team pursuit,” he said when this was pointed out to him. “I felt good in the second half of the race and I just committed. It was hard out there, the three of had to really work well together. All three of us committed and it was great.
“I wasn’t sure if they were bluffing a bit, panting a bit and pulling a face, but fortunately it was great for me.”
Almost inevitably, the 218 kilometre race featured an early breakaway group. After approximately 15 kilometres Dries Devenyns (IAM), Sébastien Turgot (AG2R), Andrea Dal Col (Southeast), Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka), Sean De Bie (Lotto-Soudal) and Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot Oranje) clipped away, working together to build a solid gap.
Behind, a crash inside the first 40 kilometres saw a cluster of riders hit the deck on the cobblestone descent of the Haaghoek. Fallers included Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who suffered vertebral fractures which have ended his spring Classic campaign, as well as others such as Milan-San Remo winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Lars Boom (Lotto (Astana) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Garmin).
Langeveld immediately left the race was taken to hospital, while Lampre-Merida’s Niccolo Bonifazio, Robert Wagner (LottoNL-Jumbo), Vegard Breen, Gert Dockx (both Lotto Soudal), Andrey Amador and Imanol Erviti (both Movistar) all withdrew.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) also retired with injury.
Out front, Dal Col slipped back to leave five out front. These pushed on but the peloton was animated behind, leading to the gap to fall to a minute by the Kapelberg. At that point only De Bie, Sbaragli and Devenyns were still out front, with the latter then pushing ahead alone.
On the Paterberg a selection was initially made but a partial regrouping occurred before the Oude Kwaremont.
That second climb proved much more decisive, with Thomas sparking off an attack and being marked by Stybar. Sagan then bridged across and the three chasers caught and then dropped a tiring Devenyns.
The leaders rode hard and fended off a chase led by the BMC Racing Team. This pursuit was hampered when that team’s leader Greg Van Avermaet crashed, and that hesitation was all that was needed for the three out front to know that they would fight for the win.
Thomas was aware of the finishing speed of Sagan and Stybar and made his move just outside four kilometres to go. His turn of speed was too much for Sagan and gave him the gap he needed. The Slovakian was then dropped by Stybar, who chased hard but finished 25 seconds back.
Sagan was caught and passed by a chase group led in by Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), 38 seconds after Thomas’ victory celebration.
The latter was very satisfied with his win and will now be one of the favourites for the next two Monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“These six weeks from Paris-Nice to Paris-Roubaix was the big hit for me early season,” he confirmed. “Paris-Nice was really disappointing. It was close last week so to get the win now is really special. It is super, anything else is a bonus.”
THOMAS Geraint THOMAS Geraint Team Sky
ŠTYBAR Zdeněk ŠTYBAR Zdeněk Etixx - Quick Step
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TRENTIN Matteo TRENTIN Matteo Etixx - Quick Step
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