Wout van Aert celebrated his premiere in the prestigious spring classic with 267km over a gruelling course featuring lots of ”Hellingen” – short but extremely steep and nasty climbs with gradients up to 22% – by sprinting to 9th place. ”I am very proud to have finished in the top-ten”, said van Aert after the race that took place Sunday April 1st.
Winner became Niki Terpstra from the Netherlands ahead of Mads Pedersen and Philippe Gilbert. Not only team captain van Aert delivered a great performance aboard his STEVENS Xenon, the whole team Verandas Willems-Crelan showed up in good shape and presented great tactics and team work. At the beginning Huub Duyns und Michael Goolaerts were assigned to the task to be in break-away groups. Goolaerts’ ten-strong group was the first to manage to escape and over the course of the race gained a lead of up to five minutes.
Stijn Devolder, Flanders winner himself in 2008 and 2009 fell victim to a crash in the peloton on the cobblestones shortly before the ”Muur of Geraardsbergen” and had to abandon the race, yet continued to ride his bike to the finish in Oudenaarde. Michael Goolaerts bonked at the same place after a long escape, as he explained later. Team manager Nick Nuyens (himself a former Flanders winner with the juniors and the pros) pointed out that the remaining five riders of the Pro Continental team made a great effort over the course of the race to get Wout van Aert to the finish line as fresh as possible.
Among them was Dutch rider Stijn Steels who pulled his captain up the ”Oude Kwaremont” almost totally exhausting himself doing so. The team was also grateful for the efforts of Huub Duyn, Sean de Bie and Zico Waeytens.
At the Paterberg climb after 215km Wout van Aert showed that he is a force to be reckoned with, when he quickly left behind a couple of riders. Yet, 25km before the finish Niki Terpstra broke away, overtook the three riders who had been ahead for a while and never gave up the lead until the end. The chase group which at one time was 25 riders strong, after crossing the Oude Kwaremont hellingen and the Paterberg for the second time, had been reduced to 12 riders. World champion Peter Sagan meanwhile tried to break away but to no avail. Wout van Aert kept up with his chase group and eventually sprinted to 9th place.
After the race a pleased Wout van Aert said: ”I am very proud of this top-ten finish in my first Tour of Flanders”. Now he is gladly looking forward to next monument of professional cycling, Paris-Roubaix, the upcoming weekend.