Italian Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) completed the push of his life to win the 2019 Tour of Flanders from an Oude Kwaremont attack.
Bettiol won solo, his first professional race win, in Oudenaarde ahead of an elite group of 15 on his heels, including former Flanders winners Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).
"The last 14 kilometres after Paterberg were the longest of my life," he said.
"I just heard from the radio my sport director telling me to push as hard as I could. I never turned back and I found some wind. Also Langeveld said on the radio everybody here is tired just keep on pushing but this finish line didn't want to arrive."
Bettiol made it to the Paterberg, the last climb, topped it and rode the 13.5 kilometres to the finish line. He ended with 14 seconds on Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who shot free, and 17 seconds on the group led home by Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).
"The first time I looked back was 200 metres to the finish line and nobody was there," he said. "I just enjoyed my victory".
His win came on the heels of some massive team-work by Sep Vanmarcke and Sebastian Langeveld. Vanmarcke had shot free earlier with Sky's Dylan Van Baarle but once back, he worked for Bettiol's attack. Langeveld, still in the group of top riders, disrupted the chase behind.
"I just saw now on Sporza TV what Sebastian Langeveld did on the Paterberg. Just stopping the peloton, it was unbelievable. He's won Het Nieuwsblad, I hadn't won anything before today," Bettiol said.
"It was an amazing job from all of the team-mates. I want to also mention the guys who worked when the cameras weren't on, like Taylor Phinney, Sacha Modolo, Tom Scully, they covered us all of the way until the first Kwaremont and in the end, it's all about the legs and the strongest won.
"When I attacked, Sebastian just covered me, everything went well but not only today, also in [E3] Harelbeke. Even if Sep crashed, I was with Sebastian. If my group didn't arrive to the front, Sep could do a really good sprint. It's not only today."
Bettiol had been off the radar for most cycling fans after suffering with injuries in past seasons. He began to show himself in Milan-San Remo and the E3 BinckBank Classic in the last few weeks and now, even back at home in Italy, they should know his name.
"It's just a dream, I still don't really believe it. Maybe tomorrow I will read it in La Gazzetta dello Sport, if they recognise me," he explained.
"Probably the Belgian riders feel this race more than me but I can tell you how you feel here, there are few races where you feel like a star as you do here. The riders feel professional because in Belgium it is the first sport, in Italy unfortunately it is soccer. They all think about Juventus, Inter and Milan, here they are out all day."
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