Sunweb’s Cees Bol took an unexpected victory in the 2019 Nokere Koerse, after his team’s sprinter was taken out in a huge crash 300 metres from the line.
Dutchman Bol was perfectly positioned to lead out team-mate Max Walscheid, who hit the deck hard in the closing metres.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Pascal Ackermann was first to open his sprint, but as he faded on the cobbled run to the line Bol was strong enough to pass him to take the win.
Bol’s victory is the first of 2019 for Sunweb.
How it happened
After the spring sun of Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, racing returned to the grey skies of Belgium for the 2019 Nokere Koerse.
A characteristically complex and winding course took the peloton over 199.5km from Deinze to Nokere in East Flanders.
The route featured two difference lap circuits, with three major climbs and scatter of cobbled sections.
Tackling the Tiegemberg (750m at 5.6 per cent), Lange Ast (400m at 5.2 per cent ) and the Nokereberg (350m at 5.7 per cent), the race was a perfect tester ahead of the coming cobbled Monuments.
The race featured some exciting young talent, including Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and cyclocross world champion Mathieu van der Poel (Correndon-Circus)
A five man breakaway went clear early in the day, consisting of David Boucher (Tartelleto-Isorex), Otto Vergaerde (Correndon-Circus), Axel Journiaux (Direct Energie), Yohann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), and Mattia Viel (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec).
The peloton allowed the escapees a significant gap, stretching out to seven minutes with 100km left of racing.
Bora-Hansgrohe were keen to control the race for German national champion Pascal Ackermann, while Quick-Step targeted another one-day success with any one of their hopefuls.
Unsurprisingly crashes played a huge role on the narrow roads of Belgium, with Team Sky’s Owain Doull one of those coming down in the second half of the race.
The peloton started to close down the front five, pulling the gap back to around three minutes 50km from the line.
At the front of the race, the breakaway fractured until only Boucher, Offredo and Vergaerde remained.
With 30km left to race their gap had tumbled to 30 seconds, with van der Poel hammering on the front in a bid to cause splits in the peloton.
At the 25km mark the three remaining breakaway riders shook hands and sat up, immediately sparking an attack from the peloton that never got a meaningful gap.
Evenepoel then opened up, setting a driving pace but failing to break up the race before a two-man move from Israel Cycling Academy’s Clément Clarisey and Arkea-Samsic’s Clément Russo finally stuck.
The French duo pulled out 30 seconds with 15km to race, but no chase from the peloton followed.
Eventually the escapees faded once again, being swept up on the cobbles of Lange Ast, 12km from home.
A few last-ditch attempts came from the smaller teams in the closing stages, but nothing with conviction, as Bora returned to the front for Ackermann with Quick-Step’s train close behind.
The Belgian WorldTour squad were looking to fire their 22-year-old Colombian sprinter Álvaro José Hodeg to victory.
In the final 5km the peloton was strung out with splits starting to form in a long, flat stretch of road.
Evenepoel lost contact at the back of the bunch and put in a huge effort to hold on to the group.
CCC Team appeared on the front 3km from the line, working for their sprinter Jakub Mareczko as the peloton remained whole.
Sunweb’s train also made their presence felt for fast man Max Walscheid.
As the race hit the final cobbled run to the line, a huge crash near the front of the bunch caused chaos, with van der Poel hitting the floor and staying down.
Walscheid was also taken down in the crash, leaving Sunweb without their sprinter.
Bora fired Ackermann to the front as the German unleashed his sprint 200m from the finish. He faded on the slight cobbled gradient, with Walcheid’s lead-out man Bol hiding behind.
Bol opened his sprint and passed Ackerman to take an unexpected victory.
Nokere Koerse 2019: Deinze to Nokere (199.5km
1. Cees Bol (Ned) Sunweb, in 4-32-37
2. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates
4. Boy van Poppel (Ned) Roompot-Charles
5. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
6. Jonas Van Genechten (Bel) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel
7. Justin Jules (Fra) Wallonie Bruxelles
8. Bram Welten (Ned) Arkéa Samsic
9. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
10. Lawrence Naesen (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, all at same time