Team Sky’s Luke Rowe created a spark in the team heading towards one of the biggest spring races on the calendar, the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
After a quiet day on Friday in the E3 BinckBank Classic, he fired away in Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday. On the roads south in Flanders near the French border, he soloed away from the group to join the leading four with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott).
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“Now, I think there can be a bit of excitement going into Flanders,” Rowe said.
The Welshman eventually finished 18th as Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) won the race from a sprint.
The Tour of Flanders this Sunday starts in Antwerp, covers several of the famous climbs including the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg before its finish in Oudenaarde. Rowe knows the course well, having finished fifth in 2016.
Team Sky would have been happier with the performance in Ghent-Wevelgem having returned to the sharp end 48 hours after a puncture destroyed the E3 for Ian Stannard and the other riders including Rowe and Gianni Moscon who flew mostly under the radar.
Rowe joined the super group of 18 riders when Jumbo-Visma splintered the race in the crosswinds, with the early hours raced at over 50kph. That group broke up after the first ascent of the Kemmelberg and, not happy to miss it, Rowe later launched a solo attack of seven kilometres to join the four.
“I lost a year of my life there!” he continued. “Those four had gone clear and I’d kind of missed the boat which was disappointing. After the gravel roads I just sensed everyone was on their knees. I still had a little bit of gas left so I thought I’d hit out on a little climb and hopefully bring one or two with me. Then you look around and you’re on your own!”
He was there before the second time up the Kemmelberg, but pressure from behind saw the main group with Kristoff return. Rowe launched one more time solo, but his chances ended 17km from the finish in Wevelgem.
“It’s nice to bounce back. Through Paris-Nice and San Remo it’s all gone pretty well and I felt good,” he said. “For some reason or another E3 was just a massive fail for me and I was quite disappointed actually. I was quite keen to put things right this morning.”
Rowe he made the mark he wanted before the two big monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix the following Sunday.
He added: “Just to be at the front and have good legs and sensations is the important thing before the coming weeks.”