Backspin: Gilbert triumphs, Sagan falls, Kittel reigns and cycling mourns loss of two legends…
It has been a week of extreme highs and lows in the world of pro cycling and Eurosport has it covered in the latest ‘Backspin’ …
Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) literally walked across the line with bike hoisted triumphantly overhead after a ‘monumental’ 55km solo attack on the cobbled climbs of the 261km Tour of Flanders just 72 hours after winning Three Days of de Panne.
The 34-year-old’s thrilling break was bolstered by an odd crash involving pre-race favourites Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) with 17km to go.
Gilbert’s victory in Flanders adds to the 2012 world champion’s already impressive resumé that includes stage wins at all three Grand Tours and victories in two other ‘Monument’ races — Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.
Gilbert has also won major one-day classics including Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Clasica de San Sebastian, but according to Gilbert his world title still tops the list:
" It’s hard to say, every big victory like this is nice. When I won the worlds it was something really special – I think this will always stay the biggest win of my life but winning Liège and this one in Flanders is really nice."
While Gilbert looks to be in fine form, he does not necessarily fit the mould of a ‘Hell of the North’ contender and will forego Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, thus making him only the second Flanders winner in the past 10 years to skip Roubaix after Nick Nuyens did so in 2011.
“Paris-Roubaix has a magnetic attraction on me, but I won’t be there this year. I need to take a break, recover properly and then begin thinking of the Ardennes, where I’ll be part of a very strong team,” Gilbert said in a Quick-Step team statement.
One rider who still hopes to race Roubaix is Sagan, who was admittedly favouring his sore hip and ribs at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday.
The reigning back-to-back world champion avoided a crash in the final 4km of the 202km race, before pulling out of the race prior to crossing the line.
“I’m happy the day ended safely, avoiding any incidents during the race. I don’t feel very well at the moment and hope my form gets better for Paris-Roubaix,” said Sagan, who posted his take on the Flanders incident on social media prior to his Scheldeprijs start in Belgium.
"I'm here to see how I feel and how I ride on the bike. I have some pain in my hip and in this part," he told Cyclingnews.
"I hope I'll be okay for Paris-Roubaix. I should be. I'm not concerned."
Kittel remains ‘King of Scheldeprijs’
German sprinter Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) won his second straight Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. The win also marks his record fifth victory at the unofficial ‘sprinter’s world championship’ since 2012, with only Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) interrupting the streak in 2015 – a year Kittel did not start.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was third behind Sky’s Viviani at the line in the bunch sprint finish.
“The trophies are filling up my living room,” admitted Kittel. “This is one of my favourite races. I won’t be in the Giro. Gaviria will be our sprinter. I will take some rest now, and come back for the Tour of California and the Tour de France.”
Kittel said the win was made even more special by the presence of teammate Tom Boonen, who will retire after Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, especially considering the race started in Boonen’s hometown of Mol, Belgium.
“It was great to win with Boonen working at the front of the group. It makes it even more special to be here for his last race in Belgium,” the 28-year-old Kittel. “Tom is a big hero of mine, so it’s been an honour to race with him on this team. I hope he can win on Sunday. It’s now a pretty good record so far.”
American Coryn Rivera makes history in Flanders
Seven days removed from finishing third at Gent-Wevelgem, 24-year-old American Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) sprinted to a sensational victory at the women’s Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
Rivera, who posted her first UCI Women’s WorldTour win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda in March, outkicked two-time Australian road race champion Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott) and last year’s Gent-Wevelgem winner Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) in a select bunch sprint in the 153.3km cobbled classic – the longest race of the WWT this season.
After what appeared to be a potential four-rider break racing to the finish uncontested with 30km remaining, a chase group of 15 was able to ride down Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5), Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), Katarzyna Niewadoma (WM3 Energie) and Annemie van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) shortly after ascending the Patersberg, which marked the final climb of the day, to set up the hotly contested sprint finish.
“The team did a brilliant job keeping the leaders safe and in a good position throughout the race. When the going got tough the team animated the race with Rozanne taking a lead before the Kanarieberg,” said Rivera of her teammate Rozanne Slik’s solo attack at the 100km mark.
“Here we showed our intentions to make it a hard race and when the first bunch of 30 exploded on the Kruisberg, we were up there but we couldn’t follow on the climb,” she continued. “The team gave everything on the Kwaremont to get the group back at the wheel and we almost closed it, but in the end we couldn’t follow the four best climbers.
“From the moment that Hans [Timmermans] made the call to go full gas for me, Ellen [van Dijk] took charge of the pace,” Rivera concluded. “The sprint was absolutely thrilling, but I still feel like I am dreaming.”
Cycling tragically loses two legends: Hall, Tilford
Less than a week after the tragic death of British ultra-endurance cyclist and Transcontinental founder Mike Hall, four-time US national cyclo-cross champion Steve Tilford, 59, died Wednesday morning after a car crash in Colorado.
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, the crash was caused by an overturned semi-truck, which caused a chain-reaction crash. A driver of a second semi, which crashed into Tilford’s van, died at the scene due to injuries.
Fans, friends and colleagues took to social media to pay tribute and share condolences following Tilford’s untimely death.
In another tragic accident last Friday, Hall was fatally struck by a car on the outskirts of Canberra in the final stages of the 5,300-kilometre Indian-Pacific Wheel Race in Australia last Friday.
After announcing Hall’s death, the organisers of the IndiPac cancelled the event hours before race leader Kristof Allegaert was due to finish at Sydney Opera House.
“This is a difficult time for everyone involved, along with their families, and their well-being is our primary concern,” the organisers explained in a statement.
Instead of finishing the race, a tribute ride was held on Sunday in Sydney, as well as other memorial gatherings around the country.
During his short, but illustrious career, Hall won the inaugural World Cycle Race in 2012; and in 2013 and 2016 he won the Tour Divide ultra-endurance mountain bike race that takes riders across the Rocky Mountains.
- Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT), April 9
- Amstel Gold Race (1.UWT), April 16
- Women’s Amstel Gold Race (1.WWT), April 16
- Tour of the Alps (2.HC), April 17-21
- La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT), April 19
- La Flèche Wallonne Feminine (1.WWT), April 19