Tour of Flanders
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) finally added a Classics victory to stage wins at the Tour of Qatar, Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice and the overall victory at Three Days of De Panne, following second-place finishes in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Milan-San Remo in March.
The Norwegian outsprinted Etixx-QuickStep’s Niki Terpstra at the end of a punishing 264.9km course for his tenth victory of the season. The duo attacked just after the Kruisberg with a little under 30km to the finish and it proved to be the decisive move of the race as the chasing group behind were unable to work together to reel them back in.
BMC’s Greg van Avermaet rounded out the podium seven seconds back, with Peter Sagan fourth 16 seconds down.
There had been controversy earlier in the race when Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing) was hit by a Shimano neutral service car while in the lead escape group and had to withdraw with a broken collarbone. Later in the race, another incident involving a Shimano neutral service car led to Sebastian Chavanel abandoning the race, when the Shimano car rear-ended the FDJ team car, knocking the Frenchman to the floor. The driver was later named as former Lotto and CSC rider Paul Van Hyfte.
On a lighter note, MTN-Qhubeka’s Matt Brammeier won his own body weight (73kg) in Stene Molen beer for being the first man over the intermediate sprint point after 33.6km of the race. MTN-Qhubeka’s general manager, Brian Smith, told Cycling Weekly, “Like all cyclists, he likes beer.”
Tour of the Basque Country
Joaquim Rodriguez took stages three and four on his way to win both the general and points classifications at the six-stage Tour of the Basque Country, beating Sergio Henao (Team Sky) by 13 seconds and Ion Izagirre (Movistar) by 29 seconds. Tour de France contender and 2013 winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) came fourth, 38 seconds in arrears.
After sprinters Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing) took stages one and two respectively, Rodriguez won the third stage, which featured eight categorised climbs and saw riders forced to dismount on the first ascent of the Antigua due to the number of spectators, and took the fourth also, but remained level with Henao.
Mikel Landa (Astana) won a tough fifth stage and then it was time for the hilly 18.3km time trial, which was won by Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), but more importantly saw Rodriguez come second on the stage, 13 seconds ahead of Henao to take the overall classification.
April is supposedly the cruellest month and it was hard to argue when faced with the monstrous 253.5km route of Paris-Roubaix for the aptly-named Hell of the North. Team Giant-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb took his second Monument of the year, outsprinting a group of six other riders including Zdenek Stybar and Greg van Avermaet to make up for 2014’s second place.
Degenkolb put in a huge dig to make it across to race leaders van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) just over 10km from the finish. Naturally, the two Belgians weren’t too keen to give the German sprinter a tow to the line, allowing Stybar to bridge the gap to the lead group, along with Lars Boom (Astana), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge) and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling).
But Degenkolb was just too fast for them, launching his sprint on the final bend and holding off all challengers to take the win.
The race was also notable for being Sir Bradley Wiggins’s final race in the black and blue of Team Sky, but he was unable to make it a fairytale ending, finishing 18th in a group of 14 riders, including Alexander Kristoff, 2014’s winner Niki Terpstra and Peter Sagan, 31 seconds behind the leaders.
Wiggins’s team-mate Geraint Thomas was prevented from continuing his spring form when a heavy fall forced him to abandon the race.
French railway company SNCF filed a formal complaint with French police after the race, as a number of riders made a risky attempt to cross a level crossing when the barriers were down to keep contact with the peloton. Despite breaking the rules, no riders were disqualified from the race.
La Flèche Wallone
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde won his second consecutive La Fleche Wallone, beating Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Michael Albisini (Orica-GreenEdge) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the Mur de Huy, having just lost out to Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) in the Amstel Gold Race three days earlier.
There had been a flurry of attacks in the final 50km, but none were able to stay away and the peloton seemed resigned to deciding the race on the Mur de Huy.
Valverde led the bunch up most of the race’s final climb, dragging pre-race favourite Rodriguez along on his wheel. But when Valverde kicked, no one was able to follow and the Spaniard comfortably recorded his third win at La Fleche Wallone by three bike lengths.
Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), 2014’s runner-up, and 2011 winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC) both abandoned the race following nasty crashes, while a crash 12km from the finish meant Chris Froome finished the race on his own in 123th place, 12-19 behind Valverde.
Alejandro Valverde capped a superb April with another sprint-finish victory in the 101st edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Julian Alaphilippe once again finished second to the Spaniard, while Joaquim Rodriguez went one better than his ride in La Flèche Wallone to come third.
Having finished second in 2014 and third the year before, Valverde finally added to his victories in 2006 and 2008 with a characteristic burst of speed on the uphill finish to Ans, moving into the lead in the UCI WorldTour rankings in the process above Richie Porte (Team Sky).
An attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas 6.5km from the finish led to the escape group of Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) being caught and, by the final climb in Ans, the lead group consisted of 13 riders.
Daniel Moreno (Katusha) attacked first, with Valverde and Rodriguez in pursuit and, as the pace briefly slowed, Valverde was able to make yet another winning move in a spectacular spring.
Earlier in the day, two previous winners of the race, Dan Martin and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), as well as Team Sky’s Nicolas Roche, were involved in a bad crash 40km from the finish, which forced all three riders to withdraw.