Deceuninck-Quick-Step delivered another masterclass in Classics race tactics as Zdeněk Štybar took victory at the 2019 E3 BinckBank Classic.
The win adds to the Belgian team's one-day victories in the Great Ocean Road Race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Le Samyn, Strade Biance and Milan-San Remo this season already.
Štybar out-sprinted Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) from a small escape group that made it to the final kilometre together.
The Czech rider, who already took victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, can thank team-mate Bob Jungels in large part for his victory, as the Luxembourg champion attacked with 60km to go to bridge to the day's main breakaway before going solo with around 30km to go.
That allowed Štybar to sit and follow the wheels, nestling into the group that got away after Van Avermaet attacked on the final climb of the Tiegemberg.
When Jungels was caught, he was able to work for his team-mate and led the group into the final few hundred metres.
Former winner Van Avermaet was the first to launch his sprint from Jungels' wheel, with Bettiol following. But it was Štybar who reacted best, putting in a huge turn of speed to launch and hold ahead of the other riders to take the win. Wout Van Aert was the next rider across the line with a decent sprint for second place in his race debut.
How it happened
The peloton of the 2019 E3 BinckBank Classic rolled out of Harelbeke in beautiful Belgian sunshine for the first major cobbled Classic of the season.
At the drop of the flag riders instantly began trying to escape in the day's main breakaway, but it took until the first cobbled climb of the Katteberg with almost 30km gone for a group to break free.
Seven riders, including Jaime Castrillo (Movistar), Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb), Stijn Steels (Roompot-Charles), Ludwig De Winter (Wanty-Gobert), Mihkel Räim (Israel Cycling Academy), Aksel Nommela (Wallonie Bruxelles) and Thomas Sprengers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), got away.
They soon became eight with Lionel Taminiaux (Wallonie Bruxelles) later bridging across as the gap went up over two minutes.
That group established a maximum gap of just over five minutes, but that fell to under 3-30 as they began to hit the next set of climbs and the peloton ramped up its speed.
With around 87km to go, one of the day's potential winners dropped out of contention with Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education) crashing into a ditch on the side of the road and injuring his leg.
While there were small digs on the Taaienberg from the favourites in the peloton, the gap was down to 1-16 to the front group with 66km to go.
Six kilometres later it was down to just 16 seconds, giving Bob Jungels the opportunity to try and bridge across.
Castrillo and De Winter were then dropped on the climb of the Stationsberg with 57.6km to go, before Jungels made the junction 1.5km later with the gap now at 50 seconds.
Nils Pollitt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar) bridged across to front group with 47km to go and the gap at 43 seconds, with it increasing again to 57 seconds as they hit the Paterberg with 42.8km to go.
Van Avermaet caused a split in the bunch behind on the Paterberg with only Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Jens Keukeleire (Lotto-Soudal), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) able to follow.
Up front, Jungels went clear with Hirschi just after the climb but was quickly joined by Sütterlin and Pollitt again with 39km to go with a 49 seconds advantage.
They carried the gap over the next climb of the Oude Kwaremont with Gilbert dropped on the climb into a third group with team-mate Yves Lampaert, Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Sebastian Langeveld (Ef Education First) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal).
The next major move came as Jungels attacked with 30.7km to go with 33 seconds advantage on the Karnemelkbeekstraat, dropping his breakaway companions.
He held a 37-second gap into the final climb of the Tiegemberg, but that came under threat with Van Avermaet attacking on the climb when the second group hit it.
That move caused Sagan to be dropped back into the third group, which had almost made the bridge to the second group. Only Štybar, Bettiol and Van Aert could follow Van Avermaet's move, which brought the gap to Jungels down to 26 seconds with 18.5km to go.
Those four worked well together, bringing the gap to a tiring Jungels down to just 12 seconds with 14km to go with it looking like he'd almost certainly be caught, and he was eventually brought back with 6.8km to go.
It was clear the winner would then come from the front sub-bunch with the second group now 40 seconds back, as Štybar made the first attack with 3.5km to go. He was quickly brought back before Jungels tried again, to no success. Štybar put in another dig with 2.1km left, after his team-mate was brought back, but he was unable to get away.
Jungels, who had been dropped after Štybar's second attack, then came back to the group at the flamme rouge to lead things out for his team-mate.
Despite Van Avermaet launching his sprint first from behind Jungels with Bettiol and Van Aert reacting, Štybar was able to match and hold his sprint in front of them all to take the win.
E3 BinckBank Classic 2019: Harelbeke to Harelbeke (204km)
1 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 4-45-33
2 Wout Van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma
3 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team
4 Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First
5 Bob Jungels (Lux) Deceuninck-QuickStep
6 Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin
7 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
8 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team
10 Marc Hirschi (Swi) Team Sunweb
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