Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Floors) took victory in a reduced bunch sprint at the end of a chaotic edition of Scheldeprijs that saw crosswinds rip the race to pieces and a large number of riders disqualified.
The main incident of the day came not at the finishing line but at a level crossing with more than 100km remaining where a number of riders rode through the closing barriers and were disqualified, leaving just 58 riders left in the main field.
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The towards the four laps of the finishing circuit in Schoten also saw a member of the public manage to drive onto the course, but the only moment that Quick-Step Floors were interested was seeing a rider in blue with their arms in the air at the finish.
With that in mind the Belgian team took control of the final five kilometres after defending champion Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) suffered a puncture and was unable to get back on.
With Kittel out, it was down to a younger rider to take the victory, and while Chris Lawless (Team Sky) was the first to open his sprint with 250m to go, the Brit was easily overhauled by Jakobsen, who took a comfortable victory.
How it happened
The early kilometres of the race gave something of an indication of the drama to come as a crash in the neutralised zone brought down a number of riders before normal service was resumed with a break of eight riders going up the road. In the move were Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal), Johann Van Zyl (Dimension Data), Jan-Willem Van Schip (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Adrien Garel (Vital Concept), Michal Paluta (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), and Carlos Eduardo Alzate and Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare).
However far from riding away and establish a decent lead, the break was never able to establish a gap of much more than 30 seconds as the peloton kept the pace high behind with the high winds constantly threatening to split the race to pieces.
In the end the initial break lasted little more than 30km, before Moreno Hofland (Lotto Soudal) found himself in a solo break, something which he obviously created unintentionally as he made no attempt to stay out front when a five-strong group of Van Schip , Jonas Rickaert (Sport Flanders-Baloise), Sean De Bie (Veranda’s Willems-Crelen), Guillaume Van (Keirsbulck Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Alexander Cataford (UnitedHealthcare) went away.
That group enjoyed more success than the first breakaway, establishing a lead of more than three minutes at one point. However with a little over 100km remaining the crosswinds struck again, splitting the bunch to pieces and seeing the break reeled back in
In the panic to stay in touch, a large group of riders went through a closing level crossing and were duly disqualified from the race by the commissaires.
Incredibly, that left just 58 riders still in the race with the front of the peloton resembling a Katusha-Alpecin club run, the Swiss team having avoided losing riders in the level crossing incident and looking to set up Marcel Kittel a sixth Scheldeprijs victory.
Another moment of drama followed as a member of the public somehow managed to drive onto the course, much to the bemusement of the Katusha riders, before Owain Doull (Team Sky) and Antoine Duchesne (Groupama-FDJ) attacked and worked well together to open a gap of 1-30 with 40km remaining around the finish in Schoten.
By the second of the four crossings of the finish line in Schoten with 36km remaining the lead duo’s gap had slimmed slightly to 1-20, but rapidly started to fall through the following finishing lap as Quick-Step Floors joined forces with Katusha at the front of the peloton.
Duchesne and Doull were still in the lead as they crossed the line for the penultimate time with 18km to go, but their lead was now down to just 35 seconds as the usual Scheldeprijs bunch sprint seemed inevitable.
Much of the damage was being done by Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Floors) and Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), but Schmidt was quickly pulled off the front as team leader Kittel suffered a puncture with 12km remaining with only Nils Politt dropping back to try and pace Kittel back on. However the defending champion seemed to lack legs and/or motivation as he shook his head and let the peloton ride away.
Meanwhile, Duchesne and Doull led onto the final cobbled sector with 8.2km remaining but were soon caught as LottoNL-Jumbo raised the pace with Sky also present close to the front.
With five kilometres to go Sunweb moved to the front, but the depleted group of around 35km was hard to control and Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo), a strong time triallist, was soon on the attack. Van Emden opened a slender gap but was caught and counter-attacked by Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Want-Groupe Gobert) and Matti Breschel (EF Education First-Drapac), who were also soon swept up.
Quick-Step Floors and Iljo Keisse had things back under control with two kilometres remaining, the Belgian rider having three team-mates in his wake and handing over to Zdenek Stybar towards the flamme rouge.
For a moment Quick-Step seemed to have been overwhelmed as Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal) went to the front with the finish line in sight before Chris Lawless (Team Sky) launched his sprint early.
However Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Floors) was waiting in the wheels and timed his sprint to perfection to surge past Lawless and take a prestigious victory.
Scheldeprijs 2018: Terneuzen to Schoten, 200.4km
1. Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-23-51
2. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Chris Lawless (GBr) Team Sky
4. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal
5. Jérémy Lecroq (Fra) Vital Concept
6. Max Walscheid (Ger) Team Sunweb
7. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
8. Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
9. Bram Welten (Ned) Fortuneo-Samsic
10. Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin, all at same time