A disappointed Luke Rowe said he was “really gutted” to have crashed out of contention at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, berating bad luck that ended what looked to be a promising ride after he came down behind Sep Vanmarcke.
The Welshman and Sky executed their tactics exactly as they wanted the first half of the race and having anticipated an attack going on the Muur van Geraardsbergen they were at the front when Tom Boonen forced the move.
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Both Rowe and Gianni Moscon got on the right side of the split, joining a strong 14-rider group that also included Quick-Step trio Boonen, Philippe Gilbert and Matteo Trentin, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac).
However, while descending the Kwaremont for the second time with around 53km to go, Belgian Vanmarcke got his wheel stuck in a gutter in the road and brought down Rowe who was following behind.
After finishing fifth in Flanders in 2016 Rowe has been targeting a major result during the Spring Classics campaign, with third in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February his best result so far. He narrowly missed the decisive split at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3-Harelbeke, while at Ghent-Wevelgem he abandoned before the finish.
“I’m really gutted to be honest,” Rowe told Cycling Weekly, after eventually crossing the line in 120th place. “You race these Classics year on year and very rarely does it go exactly how you want it to go, and be in a perfect place and be in a great situation. I was in a group of 10 guys and I felt as strong as any one of them.
“You keep saying ‘unlucky then but next year and next year’, but how many more times do you have to say next year you know? Year’s are going by, it’s frustrating.”
The fact that a rider as experienced as Vanmarcke could make a simple mistake and crash, Rowe said, showed how unpredictable the Classics can be — with riders needing luck on their side to succeed.
Watch: Tour of Flanders 2017 highlights
“It happened so quick it was just a blink of an eye,” the 27-year-old explained.
“Anyone who has ever ridden in Belgium will know the deadly gutter in the middle of the road and he got his wheel caught in there. We were probably doing 60k an hour down there, so it was a fast bit of road, and his bike and body were in front of me and I was down straight away.
“Sep is one of the most experienced Classics riders so it proves even the best can make a simple mistake and unfortunately I was smack bang on his wheel with nowhere to go.
“We speak about the Classics and how unpredictable they are and how you need luck on your side, but it definitely wasn’t there today.”
Sky’s Flanders line up featured three race debutants — including British neo pros Owain Doull and Jon Dibben — with the duo also set to race Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Yet Rowe admitted despite their inexperience they’ve slotted straight into the team and performed well.
“We were pretty sure it was going to go on the Muur and the boys did a great job getting us in the front there. I want to praise them really — without them doing that work it wouldn’t be possible to be in that race winning situations,” Rowe said.
“Doull and Dibben, the way they’ve stepped up is really impressive. They stepped straight into it, first year pros, first crack at the Classics and they really are where they need to be.”
Sky will next race at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, before competing at Roubaix – the final cobbled Classic of the campaign — on Sunday. Rowe said the team is more suited as a whole to the pavé of the Hell of the North than Flanders — with Ian Stannard hoping to improve on his third place finish last year.
“Roubaix is a little bit different [to Flanders]. It’s not quite so punchy,” he explained. “You have a cobbled section and it’s two, three, sometimes four kilometres long — it’s a long, sustained five-minute effort as opposed to the Paterberg which is 360 metres and super explosive.
“You look at a guy like Sagan who is a sprinter type it’s hard to match their power on a climb like that, Roubaix is different.”