Alberto Bettiol took the first win of his professional career at the 2019 Tour of Flanders with an emphatic solo move.
The EF Education First rider was present at the head of the race throughout the day, and launched a perfectly timed solo attack on the penultimate climb to secure the win.
After riding away from the favourites on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, the Italian rode the final 17km solo as the chase faltered behind.
The Monument victory was 25-year-old Bettiol’s first since joining the professional ranks in 2016.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step had to settle for second with Kasper Asgreen, while Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) rounded out the podium.
How it happened
The 2019 edition of Flanders was fought over 270.1km of testing narrow roads and relentless, short and sharp climbing, on the road from Antwerp to Oudenaarde.
With 17 climbs, including the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen (475 metres at 9.3 per cent average), the Paterberg (360 metres at 12.9 per cent) and the Koppenberg (600 metres at 11.6 per cent), course knowledge would be as essential as form on the day.
The course also featured three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and two of the Paterberg, with those two famous stretches rounding out the day’s climbing 13.5km from the line.
In the early and quieter part of the day, four riders were able to form a breakaway – Hugo Houle (Astana), Damien Touzé (Cofidis), Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen) and Jesper Asselman (Roompot-Charles).
The breakers extended their gap out to eight minutes at its maximum 200km from home, before the peloton sprung into action.
Drama struck at 157km, as reigning champion Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) was caught in a slow motion crash in the peloton.
The Dutchman was forced to abandon the race and was taken to hospital, his condition unclear ahead of Paris-Roubaix next weekend.
Several riders tried to go clear as the gap to the escapees tumbled dramatically over the next kilometres, but no moves were allowed to stick.
As the race hit the 100km to go mark, the pace in the bunch ramped up dramatically on the road to the only ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, as the breakaway’s advantage tumbled to 1-08.
There were no attacks on the Muur but a high pace over the summit opened up the first cracks in the race, causing a split in the peloton as an elite group of around 30 riders went clear.
Favourites including Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Luke Rowe (Team Sky) and Bob Jungels (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) all kept their races alive by making the split, as the group pulled out a 30-second advantage over the remains of the peloton.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), on his Flanders debut at 38 years old, and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) were among the outsiders who made the selection, while Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) missed the split and was left in the bunch.
The chasing group rapidly caught the breakaway with 90km to the line, extending the gap out to a minute back to the peloton.
Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) was the first to break formation and attack the front group, taking Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Matti Breschel (EF Education First) with him.
That move was closed down by the front group with 78km to race as their advantage held at around 50 seconds.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Merida) was next in line to attack from the front, pushing on alone as the peloton caught back up with the front group.
The Slovenian put in a valiant effort but was swept up around 65km from home, as CCC Team hit the front in force as the race approached the Oude Kwaremont for the second time, working to place Van Avermaet at the head of affairs.
Trouble hit another favourite at 60km, as cyclocross world champion van der Poel was caught in a bizarre lone crash.
The 24-year-old was caught in a bad position and was forced to bunnyhop into a planter to avoid crashing, but the impact with the curb broke the front end of his bike.
He looked as though he had managed to control the bike, but was thrown over the handlebars as he called for assistance from the team car.
At first van der Poel appeared injured, but he remounted and chased back hard to rejoin the race.
An attack from Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r La Mondiale) pulled out a gap at the front of the race over the Kwaremont and the Paterberg, with Team Sky’s Dylan van Baarle bridging across after the Koppenberg to make it four at the front.
That attack pulled out at 30-second gap with 40km to race but there were plenty of teams left to work back in the peloton, including van der Poel’s Corendon-Circus team-mates as the Dutch national champion found his position at the front of the bunch.
Vandenbergh was the first to lose contact from the breakaway, as the pace of the chase behind caused another split in the peloton.
A newly formed chasing group of around 20 contained most major players – Sagan, Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Van Avermaet, Van Aert, van der Poel and Bettiol among the most notable.
Bob Jungels had also made the cut and put in an injection of pace to break things up further at 27km.
Vanmarcke was the next to lose contact at the front, but was strong enough to hold onto the chasing group of favourites and ride hard to set up Bettiol’s later attack.
Van Baarle and Asgreen held at 20-second advantage as they hit the 25km mark, with the third and final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont fast approaching.
The front pair were quickly caught on the Kwaremont as EF Education First’s Albert Bettiol pressed hard to pull out an advantage alone.
Van Avermaet led the chase as the group was strung out under the strain.
Bettiol powered over the cobbles on the drops and extended his advantage as he reached the top and hit the road to the final climb of the day, the Paterberg.
The Italian’s gap stretched out to 16 seconds as the favourites began to watch each other with 15km to race, but as the race hit the Paterberg the impetus returned behind.
Van Avermaet upped the pace on the climb, with van der Poel powering past the Belgian at the top of the climb.
Bettiol held onto his advantage as he started the final run to the line, with 14 riders making up the chasing group behind.
Van Avermaet, Sagan, Valverde, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Lampaert and Michael Matthews (Sunweb) were among the favourites still in the fight.
But the lone leader’s advantage still didn’t fall as a flurry of half-hearted attacks came from behind.
The chasing group swelled as some of those dropped on the Paterberg made contact again, but Bettiol was strong enough to extend his lead to 25 seconds with 7.5km to race.
As Bettiol hit the 5km mark it became clear he would ride solo to the line, finally raising his arms at the line with a big gap to the breakaway behind.
Asgreen attacked the group behind and held on for second, with Kristoff leading in the sprint for third.
After a dramatic 270km for the young star, van der Poel finished the day in fourth.
Tour of Flanders 2019: Antwerp to Oudenaarde (270.1km)
1. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First, in 6-18-49
2. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 14 seconds
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates, at 17s
4. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Corendon-Circus
5. Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin
6. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb
7. Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar
9. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
10. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team, all at same time