Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) delivered a successful defence of his Dwars Door Vlaanderen crown as he took victory in a wet and windy edition of the cobbled race.
Lampaert was part of a five-strong group which pulled clear through a Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) attack on the Varentstraat section of cobbles with 25km to go as the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) looked at each other behind.
Formed of Lampaert, Vanmarcke, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), and Mike Teunissen (Team Sunweb), that front group worked well together towards the finish in Waregem, with the attacks only starting in the final five kilometres.
All five riders in the group put in accelerations in the finale, but in the end it was a lapse in concentration that allowed Lampert to simply spin off the front with 800m to go.
The Quick-Step Floors rider must have been slightly surprised as he looked behind to find himself with a 20m gap, but showed no hesitation as he stamped on the pedals to surge clear, holding off the sprint of Teunissen to take the victory.
Watch: Cobbled Classics essential guide 2018
How it happened
The riders were greeted by wet and windy weather at the start in Roeselare and there were plenty of attacks in the opening kilometres as some riders attempted to get up the road and others just tried to keep warm.
The attacks continued to fly for the first two hours of racing, as Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Peter Koning (Aqua Blue Sport) were among those to open slender gaps before being quickly brought back into the pack.
In fact there were more splits at the back of the bunch than at the front, as a number of crashes came about on the wet roads, bringing down Belgian champion Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) who was among those to be caught up.
Finally, with around 90km to go, Luke Rowe (Team Sky) was able to get away on the Knokteberg as four of his Team Sky team-mates rather unsubtly spread across the front of the peloton to sit up and adjust their rain jackets, allowing the Welshman to ride away and quickly establish a gap of around 45 seconds.
Rowe looked strong and the gap remained steady until the next ascent of the Kluisberg when Astana hit the front and raised the pace to halve Rowe’s advantage, before keeping the pressure on over the top of the climb to pull him back shortly after.
The next climb of the Knokteberg was covered without incident, before BMC Racing and Quick-Step Floors appeared en masse at the front of the peloton in an attempt to split the race up on the exposed, wind-swept roads that followed.
There were a few splits, but the next action came on the Kortekeer as Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) applied the pressure and set off solo for the next five kilometres, eventually being caught when he slipped out on a left-bend on the approach to the Taaienberg.
So often the site of attacks by Tom Boonen in previous years, it was another Quick-Step Floors rider who made the move on the 650m climb as Zdenek Stybar powered clear as Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) tried and failed to follow.
Stybar quickly opened a 15-second gap but the chasing group was a strong one and he was quickly caught by the combined efforts of a number of riders including Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Luke Durbridge (Mitchleton-Scott) and Van Avermaet.
10km separated the top of the Taaienberg from the bottom of the third and final ascent of the Kruisberg which saw the lead group swell to around 30 riders before Valverde raised the pace and pulled a group of 11 clear on the tarmacked climb.
Alongside Valverde in the diverse group was Van Avermaet, Stybar, Martin, John Degenkolb and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education-First Drapac), Gianni Moscon (Team Sky), and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal).
The group worked well together but were having a tough time holding off a larger group led by four LottoNL-Jumbo riders behind, the gap hovering at around 10 seconds as the chase group had the leaders agonisingly in their sights.
Second by second the gap closed and with 34km remaining at the Knokteberg, the catch was made. However things didn’t remain static for long as Benoot launched another attack to pull clear with Van Avermaet locked in his wheel.
That duo had 10 seconds by the top of the climb, but again that gap was slowly whittled down by a reduced chasing group, and the two Belgians swept up on the Varentstraat section of cobbles with 25km to go.
With barriers stopping riders using the bike path which runs along the side of this sector, the riders were forced onto the cobbles and Vanmarcke went onto the attack, managing to pull clear with Lampaert, Boasson Hagen, Pedersen, and Mike Teunissen (Team Sunweb).
This time the gap looked more decisive as the bigger names in the group behind hesitated and started to attack each other rather than collaborating in the chase.
One by one, the front group ticked off the final obstacles on the route, climbing the Vossenhol and Holstraat while maintaining a lead of just under 30 seconds, and by the time they crested the Nokereberg with nine kilometres remaining and only flat roads to the finish the gap was out to 45 seconds.
The final set of cobbles came with six kilometres remaining and saw Vanmarcke put in a huge effort in an attempt to dispatch the stronger sprinters in the group. For a moment the Belgian had a slender gap, but was closed won by Lampaert and Boasson Hagen as the cat and mouse games began.
Teunnisen was the next to try his luck, followed by Boasson Hagen, and followed by Pedersen, but none were able to get away as the five leaders rode together under the flamme rouge.
What followed next was a bizarre ending as Lampaert simply spun off the front and found himself with a 20 metre gap as the other riders looked at each other, leaving the Belgian to put the hammer down and ride away to complete a successful defence of his title.
Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2018: Roeselare to Waregem, 180km
1. Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-09-40
2. Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 2 secs
3. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
5. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
6. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors, at 29 secs
7. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 30 secs
8. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, at 59 secs
9. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors, at same time
10. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, at same time