Ronde van Vlaanderen didn’t earn Monument status for nothing but the already tough race seemed even harder today with crashes marring the race from start to finish.
Canadian Hugo Houle flew the IPT flag in the late breakaway which took more than 100 kilometers to form after an intense start to the race saw Houle and his teammates on the back foot in the second group.
“The day started pretty quick and we were on the back foot as there was a split in the bunch. We managed to come back and then there was still no breakaway after about 100 kilometers so I started to stay more alert as I knew we were getting to the small roads. Our hotel is really close to there so I knew it would be really critical to stay in front and to stay safe. I saw some guys going up the road and even though it wasn’t the best chance to go away, I saw the opportunity and I knew it was good as it was a big group and it would be good to have a guy up the road. We had a good gap and everyone was riding strong,” explained Houle.
Behind Houle, his teammates were well positioned when the race started to heat up after the halfway point and more attacks started to play out, including one from Krists Neilands which was eventually reeled back.
Neilands suffered an untimely mechanical issue, followed by a crash which forced the Latvian to abandon the race but fortunately he escaped any serious injuries. Shortly after, Guillaume Boivin also went down in a separate crash but was able to chase back to the main group in a sign of his strong form.
A 12-rider group jumped ahead from the peloton with 100 kilometers to go,and quickly gained on the breakaway, at which point Houle had dropped, but the winning move came when Tadej Pogacar attacked on the second Kwaremont, followed by Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert, which saw the group blown apart behind.
“I was missing some legs though and on the Taaienberg and Kwaremont, I could not follow. One guy crashed and I dropped there and I was just trying to hang on. It was a really hard day, Flanders always is, and I feel a bit destroyed from today but it was good to be in the front,” added Houle.
Pogacar took the solo win while Vanmarcke, Tom Van Asbroeck, and Dylan Teuns battled on and finished the day in the reduced bunch, with Van Asbroeck IPT’s best placed rider in 23rd.
After sprinting to third place at Gent – Wevelgem last week, it wasn’t to be for Vanmarcke today.
“Yeah it was not so fun today,” said Vanmarcke. “It was indeed a very hard edition. Basically, out of nowhere, the peloton split in the beginning. We were behind and from then on, we were chasing the whole time. We eventually came back but even then, the race was on the whole time and I think there were only 80 guys left in the peloton when normally it would be a full bunch getting ready for the second time up the Kwaremont. Pogacar launched with a full on sprint, it was impressive, and from then on, I was still in the peloton but it got smaller and smaller. In the end, we sprinted in that small peloton but there were too many guys in front to get a good result.”