Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) continued his stellar start to the 2018 season with victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
In a nervy, tactical race, Groenewegen relied on excellent work from his LottoNL-Jumbo team-mates, first to help close down a large move that went clear on the Oude Kwaremont including the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), and then to chase a late move of three riders.
Julien Vermote (Dimension Data) was the last survivor of that move, being caught an agonising 150 metres from the line as Arnaud Démare (FDJ) opened the sprint.
However waiting in the Frenchman's wheel was Groenewegen, who bided his time before sprinting past Démare to take victory, while Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) crossed the line in third.
How it happened
Riders were welcomed with a brutally cold day for the second race of the opening weekend of the cobbled Classics, with thermometer hovering around freezing and the peloton being battered by a strong easterly wind.
Perhaps in an attempt to warm up as much to ignite the race, there were constant attacks through the opening kilometres, with it taking nearly 30km for Truls Korsaeth (Astana), Gedaminas Bagdonas (Ag2r La Mondiale), Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Piet Allegaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Romain Cardis (Direct Energie) and Ben Perry (Israel Cycling Academy) making the move.
However the pace was still high behind, and that nine-man group struggled to eke out a lead of much more than two minutes through the first two hours of racing.
In fact, by the time the race was into its final 100km, the break's lead was down to just 20 seconds, and despite a crash in the peloton on the run-in the the Oude Kwaremont the catch was made on the final climb.
The Oude Kwaremont also saw the first few moves by the big contenders as Bagdonas launched an attack which was followed by Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) to pull a group of 21 riders clear. That group quickly opened a gap of more than half a minutes as Lotto-Soudal forced the pace, while it was a surprise to see Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) dropped from the peloton on the following climb of the Kluisberg.
Behind the case was led by LottoNL-Jumbo, who had Maarten Wynants in the front group but were trying to set up Dylan Groenewegen for victory.
At on point LottoNL-Jumbo were able to reduce the gap to 20 seconds, but the lengthy Varentstraat cobbled sector before the Tiegemberg allowed the front group to open the gap out to a minute with 65km remaining.
The final climb of the day, the Nokereberg, came with 50km remaining, and saw Jasper Stuyven launch an attack with Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) locked in his wheel.
That duo quickly opened a lead of around 15 seconds while Astana continued to chase in the peloton, steadily bringing the gap down to bring it all back together - barring Oss and Stuyven - with 40km remaining.
Those two riders had a lead of 45 seconds, but Stuyven was soon on his own as Oss suffered a rear wheel puncture, was caught by the bunch, and abandoned the race as he entered the finishing circuit around Kuurne.
With a fine record in this race to defend, Stuyven pushed on alone, but was fighting a losing battle as Lotto-Soudal in particular worked hard to make the catch with just under 19km remaining.
From there Lotto continued to try to control the race, but couldn't deter unsuccessful attacks from Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gopert), before Julien Vermote (Dimension Data) and Julien Duval (Ag2r La Mondiale) were able to open a little more of a gap.
Vermote and Duval were joined by Loïc Vliegen (BMC Racing) with six kilometres remaining, opening a gap of around 15 seconds over a peloton led by FDJ and Lotto-Soudal. However whereas the chase was not cohesive, the three riders at the front were working well together and the gap holding with two kilometres to go.
However at that point FDJ raised the pace behind to try and set up Démare and the trio at the front started to splinter with Vermote making one final bid for victory.
Démare launched his sprint with 300m to go, working his way around the tiring Vliegen then closing in and catching Vermote, who was agonisingly caught just metres from the line.
However Groenewegen was biding his time in Démare's wheel, and came around the Frenchman to take his third victory of the year.
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2018: Kuurne to Kuurne, 200.1km
1. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
2. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
4. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij
5. Justin Jules (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic
6. Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing
7. Guillaume Boivin (Can) Israel Cycling Academy
8. Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky
9. Julien Vermote (Bel) Dimension Data
10. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
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