Mathieu van der Poel, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak all landed huge wins on breathless day of racing.
Having arrived at the Tour of Flanders, the fourth and final monument of the rescheduled season, it surprised few to see Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) take the first monument of his career, emulating his father Adri who won the one-day race in 1986. Few, however, will have foreseen the nature in which world champion Julian Alaphilippe’s (Elegant-Quick Step) debut appearance at the race and season came to a juddering halt.
Despite Alaphilippe’s slight frame, the lightweight puncheur had coped admirably on the cobbled roads and climbs that peppered the 243.3-kilometre route from Antwerp to Oudenaarde. Indeed, the Frenchman at times appeared a natural on the surface that is, ordinarily, favoured by those with a heavier set than Alaphilippe, a former winner of the mountains classification at the Tour de France.
After making his move on the steepest climb of the day, the Koppenberg that pitches up to gradients of 22 per cent, Alaphilippe caused a split in the leading group, only Van der Poel and the Dutchman’s great rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) were able to respond. Having caught Alaphilippe who had teamed up with compatriot Anthony Turgis, the lead group was whittled down down to just three as the Total Direct Énergie was unable to hold the pace set by three of the strongest one-day riders in the world right now.
Disaster struck for Alaphilippe who was making his debut at the race when he collided with a motorbike after Van der Poel and Van Aert had swept past it as the trio appeared poised to go all the way to the finishing line together.
“A few motorbikes wanted to go behind us, because our gap was growing, I wanted to take profit as much as possible to go behind the moto, and I think Julian was not concentrating or something,” Van Aert explained afterwards. “It’s a real pity that he hit the moto.”
Alaphilippe eventually sat up, holding his right arm and screaming in pain before being attended to by race doctors and taken to a hospital where X-rays showed two fractures in his hand.
A week after their negative tactics had backfired at Gent-Wevelgem, Van der Poel and Van Aert went all the way to the line in Oudenaarde where, following a fiercely fought two-up sprint, the Dutchman was able to celebrate.
“They had already called my name twice, but I couldn’t believe it,” Van der Poel explained after winning one of the biggest one-day races on the calendar. “I’ve asked for confirmation 10 times. I have no words for this. I am speechless.”
Shortly after Van der Poel had won the first monument of his career, another Dutch rider was celebrating when Van den Broek-Blaak led home a Boels -Dolmans one-two in the women’s race ahead of Belgian rider Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal).
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), meanwhile, landed the biggest win of his career on a mountain-top finish at the Giro d’Italia.
Geoghegan Hart’s stage 15 win was the second successive victory for Ineos Grenadiers after Filippo Ganna won Saturday’s time trial and propelled the Hackney-born rider up to fourth overall.
Speaking afterwards, Geoghegan Hart played down his chances of challenging for the leader’s pink jersey, instead paying tribute to his team-mates before dedicating the win to former sports director Nicolas Portal who died earlier this year.
“The plan was to support Geraint [Thomas, who abandoned following a crash] and I really believe that Geraint would have been on the podium of this Giro, or better. Crossing the line first is something truly incredible. I’m honoured to be a part of this team.