Wout van Aert won the E3 Saxo Bank Classic as Jumbo-Visma dominated the classic, showing their strength as the team took first and second in Harelbeke.
The Belgian rider and his teammate Christophe Laporte attacked on the Paterberg with 42.3km to go and never looked back, as they grew the gap to the elite chasers behind to two minutes.
While those in the chasing group attempted to work together to pull the Jumbo-Visma pair back, they could never control it, with the gap growing from 36 seconds with 30km to go to two minutes in the final kilometres.
In the final metres of the race, the duo sat up, congratulating themselves on how they managed to blow the race apart. Laporte gifted his Belgian teammate the win, the first time a rider had won the race in the Belgian champion's jersey since 1964.
Behind, Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) split off from the chasing pack in the final kilometre to take third, some consolation after missing the key move.
How it happened
It was unseasonably warm for the 64th edition of the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, one of the key warm up races for the Tour of Flanders, but a big race in and of itself.
There was already one casualty before the start, after Lawson Craddock (BikeExchange-Jayco) came off his bike after the sign-on, ruling him out of the day’s action.
175 riders, therefore, rolled out of Harelbeke on Friday afternoon. The first attack came over 20km in, as Tom Wirtgen (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) rolled off the front, but that was neutralised after just 5km.
Victor Koretzky (B&B Hotels-KTM) and Nikla Larsen (Uno-X) were the next to attack with 164km to go, and then they were joined by Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ), Mathijs Paaschens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jenthe Biermans (Israel-Premier Tech), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Jonas Koch (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hotels-KTM), and Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers).
However, the break was impeded by a level crossing, and the race came back together.
After that, with 156km to go, the Bora-Hansgrohe pair of Ryan Mullen and Lukas Pöstlberger clipped off the front. They were joined by Brent van Moer (Lotto Soudal) Jelle Wallays (Cofidis) Daniel Oss (TotalEnergies) Paaschens again, and Lasse Norman Hansen (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team).
They established a gap that crept up to two minutes, but they never looked like permanently staying away.
A first major acceleration by Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) came with 80km to go, pulling some favourites with him, including last year’s winner Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).
The break was caught with 75km to go to the finish in Harelbeke, extinguishing any hopes they still had of making it alone.
Tiesj Benoot was the next Jumbo-Visma rider to attack, going on the Berg Ten Stene, stretching out the peloton.
As the peloton headed over the Boigneberg and the Eikenberg, the attrition rate stepped up. With 58km to go there were just 18 riders left at the front of the race: four from Jumbo-Visma, three from Quick-Step Alpha Viny, two each from TotalEnergies, Ineos Grenadiers, and Groupama-FDJ, and one each from Alpecin-Fenix, Trek-Segafredo, Uno-X, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and Bahrain-Victorious.
Riders kept being dropped from that front group, but the decisive moment came on the Paterberg, where Van Aert attacked with his Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte, in a move reminiscent of their attack on the opening stage of Paris-Nice a fortnight ago.
They pushed on on the steepest bit of the climb, and then made their advantage count on the Oude Kwaremont, the next cobbled sector on the road.
While those behind, including Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) and the defending champion Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) attempted to pull the Jumbo-Visma duo back, the gap only grew.
The chasing pack consisted of Mohorič, Asgreen, Stefan Küng and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), Benoot, Jhonatan Narvaez and Dylan van Baarle (both Ineos Grenadiers), and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert).
Into the final 30km, Van Aert and Laporte had 36 seconds over this group of eight, but the gap grew even further, to almost two minutes.
In the final kilometre, the pair sat up, taking in their achievements. Laporte allowed his Belgian teammate to take the win in his national champion’s jersey, his third win of the season.
E3 Saxo Bank Classic 2020 (203.9km)
- Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-36-19
- Christophe Laporte (Fra) Jumbo-Visma, in same time
- Stefan Küng (Sui) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-35
- Biniam Girmay (Eri) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert
- Matej Mohorič (Sln) Bahrain-Victorious
- Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
- Jhonatan Narvaez (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers
- Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
- Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers
- Kasper Asgreen (Den) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, all at same time
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