Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) admits he came closer to winning his first ever Tour of Flanders than he had expected, saying he’s “really looking forward to coming back” to try and win the race next year.
Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) won the race attacking from the Oude Kwaremont and staying away for the final 17km as the group of favourites failed to get organised behind.
The world champion looked strong throughout, finishing in a 15-strong selection 17 seconds behind Bettiol, even joining a counter attack up the last climb to the Paterberg alongside Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale).
“It’s true that Bettiol really timed his attack well, and it was so difficult to come back,” Valverde said.
“There were many fast riders, which made for a lack of cooperation into our group – despite being able to go on a counter-attack after the Paterberg, the four of us were caught by the others and it was impossible to cooperate. And I wasn’t willing to spend more energy than the others.”
Bettiol stayed away from the chasing group that also contained Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Van Der Poel and Van Avermaet, with the Olympic champion saying he did everything he could to try and finally win the Tour of Flanders.
“For me it was the case, if I went full, I’d bring a lot of fast guys with me who were not pulling for the whole day,” Vam Avermaet said.
“As we approached the finish, our rivals were struggling and it was easier to come back, stay near the front – I was feeling really good. I don’t know if I’ll still have a chance to win this in the upcoming years, because knowing these roads well is key, but I did really well.”
Valverde, who turns 39 in two weeks, was looking to add a second Monument to his four Liège-Bastogne-Liège wins, and has said he will return next year.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back, and finishing inside the favourites’ group today gives me loads of confidence.”
The Spaniard put his impressive result down to his teammates, adding he didn’t suffer from a lack of experience of racing on cobbles.
“The team really did well. They were so willing to keep me in a good position, they followed all dangerous moves, showing confidence. We started off calm but into the final loops near the end, we were always at the right moves, really solid.
“In my case, I don’t feel like I have really paid with that lack of experience, when it comes to how to react during the race. I’ve been a pro for such a long time, competed at so many different Classics – even if not so many on cobblestones – and I knew that those experiences would help me.”