Dylan van Baarle has gone clear on the Haaghoek pavé and is joined by Florian Vermeersch, Jonathan Milan and Mathis Le Berre. They’re about to tackle the climb of Berendries where Milan will crack, then Vermeersch will pop on the next climb. This left Van Baarle with only Le Berre for company and little to worry about since the Frenchman had been in the early breakaway from the start.
The race got off to an ordinary start with an early breakaway going clear without much of a fight. In the move were Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-Samsic), Louis Blouwe (Bingoal-WB), Adam De Vos (Human Powered Health), plus team mates Alex Colman and Gilles De Wilde (Team Flanders-Baloise).
Things took a twist when the wind picked up all of a sudden and, aided by the gusts, a group of 14 riders got away with 96km to go. It had six of the seven Jumbo-Visma riders but also other topfavorieten like Arnaud De Lie, Magnus Sheffield and Fred Wright among them. They got 45 seconds on the peloton where several teams were forced into a chase. On the Holleweg pavé and this group shrunk to six but with hindsight it was a warning as to just how alert Jumbo-Visma were going to be. The move was shut down while the early breakaway of seven was still clear.
Moves were being made and Jumbo-Visma seemed to cover each one. De Lie crashed with 50km to go on the approach to Wolvenberg, wiping out on a corner. There are worse places to crash, but only just. Still he was up and riding soon although it looked like his chase, a large part of it solo, could be costly in a race where just being out of position for a climb can be ruinous. But no, soon after came the Molenberg and a select group got clear across the top and De Lie was keeping company with Tom Pidcock, Stefan Küng and Tim Wellens.
Onto the Haagehoek cobbles again and Dylan van Baarle made his move, and was joined by Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal), Jonathan Milan (Bahrain) and Mathis Le Berre, the latter still having something left after being in the early break. The quartet here didn’t have the feel of the winning move. Onto the Berendries and Milan, a hulk of a rider, was the first to be dropped on the slope. Next came the climb of Elvenberg and Vossenhol and it was Vermeersch’s turn. Van Baarle’s efforts meant the move was now looking more serious, he had Le Berre but the Frenchman was barely a passenger and Van Baarle could settle into the kind of long range effort he does best. Not for him searing attacks uphill or a sprint in town against others, much better a test of stamina while away solo and arguably the further away from the finish the better.
Still Le Berre impressed. Having been in the early breakaway he jumped onto the counter-move. Sure, as a neo-pro who’d been up in front all day Van Baarle tolerated him sitting on much more than if Vermeersch had tried this. Bahrain led on the approach to Geraardsbergen and their work cut into Van Baarle’s advantage.
Up the Kapelmuur and Tim Wellens launched with Matej Mohorič behind. Arnaud De Lie gave chase as well, his brute power visible as he charged up the cobbles in the big ring. Metres behind Christophe Laporte was marking him and the four linked up.
Van Baarle was well clear though, a cushion to manage. As ever the motos seemed to offer some help but this is in part the leader’s privilege, get yourself clear into a winning position and the media need to picture.
Three of the four kept chasing, the presence of Laporte must have weighed on their minds but it wasn’t stopping them. Better to reach Ninove with a shot at second place than get swamped by the group behind. Only this is just what happened in the final straight when the peloton, if we can call the group that, caught them in the final metres. Arnaud De Lie and Christophe Laporte were both overtaken by others but sprinted and pulled out a lead to secure the other podium spots.
A good day’s sport because of the action happening from so far out, the final hour had plenty going on and which is why the cobbled classics are so rewarding, even when the winning move goes clear it only became obvious it would succeed later on.
The clear lesson from the day was the strength of Jumbo-Visma, they made the race; and they were so omnipresent they stopped others from racing too. At times it felt like they could have ridden in security guard uniforms rather than their yellow and black kit. And Wout van Aert is yet to join them.
Sure Soudal-Quickstep struggled but we’ll have to see if this is a bad day rather than a theme; it could be both mind you. Kasper Asgreen pulled out ill, there were crashes for Tim Declerq and Florian Sénéchal. But if the Belgian press wants to roast the team in tomorrow’s papers Patrick Lefevere will be ready with his reply should Fabio Jakobsen win in Kuurne. The team got a sixth place thanks to Ballerini; several other teams will be hoping for more too.
Dylan van Baarle won and did plenty solo and should be saluted for this. But if Jumbo-Visma won because of the strongest team, surely Arnaud De Lie was the strongest rider. Luckily bike races aren’t won just by being the strongest, it’d be boring if it was so simple. De Lie though brought entertainment with his busy style and willingness to get stuck in. A late entrant – the original plan was to spare him today so he could ride Kuurne – he seemed at ease on the course (crash apart) and in his own words, “I think I was in all the moves“. The sight of him launching up the Kapelmuur in the big ring, or sprinting in Ninove when caught by the chase group and not only staying away form them but also getting the better of Christophe Laporte who’d sat on, shows what he’s capable of.