Luke Rowe admitted he was lacking a “bit of punch” at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad that prevented him from being able to follow Greg van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke in the day’s race-winning attack.
The Team Sky rider finished his first race of the Spring Classics campaign in sixth, to follow his fourth place result in the race last year.
Rowe avoided the major crash with 60km to go on the Donderij sector of cobbles that split the peloton to pieces, but despite being in a group with the three eventual podium finishers he was unable to follow when Sagan attacked on the Eikenberg climb shortly after.
He and his team-mates Ian Stannard and Gianni Moscon were part of the initial chase group behind, before being joined by Quick-Step Floors and Trek-Segafredo. However, the chase was unable to bring the gap down to any less than 25 seconds.
“I felt good in the race, maybe I lacked a bit of punch on the Eikenberg – when the three leaders attacked I was right there, but simply couldn’t react. Them three were the strongest guys they rode away there’s nothing I could do,” the 26-year-old said after the race.
“I think everyone committed well to the chase, we rode straight away and when the group narrowed down after Molenberg [climb] everyone rode as fast as they could.
“It was good cohesion in the group, everyone was riding quite well. I was happy to ride through and do my turn but like I said with a tailwind like that everyone knew it was going to be so hard to bring them back.
“I mean when you’re trying to chase them three guys, you are talking about three of the best, possibly the three best current Classics riders. They’re the three strongest guys in the bike race it’s never going to be easy to catch them.”
There was discussion after the race of whether the leading trio had ridden on bike paths and pavements, which is forbidden, and therefore not fully ridden the route. Yet Rowe said he could not comment as he had not seen what the front group of riders was doing.
“All I know is we got told this morning don’t ride on any bike paths and if you ride on any bike paths you get thrown out of the race. We rode onto the Martelstraat section and rode on the cobbles all the way along, and I’ve just finished the race. I don’t know what they did,” he said.
“It’s a grey area isn’t it, it’s up to the commissaires what they do but essentially whether they rode on the pavement or the cobbles they were the three strongest guys. To be honest, I’ve just finished the race so I don’t really know, I’m not in a position to comment having not seen and know all the details.”
Rowe and Stannard are leading Sky’s charge this Classics campaign, with the Welshman hoping to better the fifth place he secured at the Tour of Flanders last year, and eighth at Paris-Roubaix in 2015 – so far his highest finish in the Queen of the Classics. Both are racing at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday.
“I finished sixth, it’s not what you come into the race dreaming of doing but at the same time it’s sixth place in a WorldTour one-day classic – you can’t shrug your shoulders at it,” Rowe continued.
“I feel good, it’s [Kuurne] another massive one-day on the calendar and there’s not many of them, so we’ll go in all guns blazing. I’ve just had a little spin on the turbo, legs hurt but I mean it’s pretty much the same guys who race tomorrow today so everyone’s in the same boat.”