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Unexpected win for 103rd Tour of Flanders
The Oude Kwaremont, the cobblestoned road that climbs the Kluisberg in the Flemish Ardennes and the longest of the Tour of Flanders’ gruelling climbs, was the deciding factor in yesterday’s race. Italian cyclist Alberto Bettiol won the annual cycle road race, to the surprise of everyone, including himself.
Bettiol, 25, broke away from the peloton on the final Kwaremont climb – the climb features three times on the Tour route – and was no more to be seen by the other riders when he easily kep this lead in the final climb and continued the last 15 kilometres to cross the finish line at 6:18:49.
The Italian was 14 seconds ahead of Danish cyclist Kasper Asgreen. Norwegian Alexander Kristoff won the sprint for third place.
Bettiol was not a favourite to win the classic; it is in fact his first professional title. He credited his team for giving him the necessary back-up.
“The last 14 kilometres after Paterberg were the longest of my life,” he said. “I just heard from the radio my sport director telling me to push as hard as I could. I never turned back, and I found some wind. But this finish line didn’t want to arrive.”
The best performance by a Belgian rider was Oliver Naesen, who came in seventh. Defending champion, Dutchman Niki Terpstra, suffered a nasty crash on the approach to the first Kwaremont climb and was taken to hospital with a concussion.
Favourite predictions for this Tour were all over the place, with Belgian Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet’s name occasionally popping up. He was with the leaders throughout most of race, including on the final Kwaremont climb but ultimately came in 10th. A stronger Flemish favourite, Tiesj Benoot, saw a ninth-place finish.
The Tour of Flanders’ route, while always ending in Oudenaarde, constantly fluctuates. It was 270 kilometres this year, longer than usual. Of the 175 riders who started the race in Antwerp, 125 crossed the finish line in Oudenaarde.
Photo: Alberto Bettiol glanced behind and then sauntered his way across the finish line ©Yorick Jansens/BELGA