A dramatic crash on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont brought down defending champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and Greg van Avermaet (BMC).
While Sagan was unable to fight back into contention, Van Avermaet rejoined the chasing group and took second place at the finish ahead of Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors).
Philippe Gilbert returned to the Ronde van Vlaanderen for the first time in five years and in doing so he forever left his mark on the race which this year celebrated its 101st edition. The Belgian Champion attacked with more than 50 kilometers to go, on the long and iconic Oude Kwaremont, leaving behind the group which emerged on another legendary climb, Muur-Kapelmuur, with 95 kilometers remaining, where Tom Boonen upped the tempo as they rode over the hill’s steepest climb, forcing a split which turned out to be decisive.
With 55 kilometers left, on the second ascent of Oude Kwaremont, the gap began to come down, and Philippe Gilbert decided it was the right time for him to surge clear on the climb first used by the race in 1974, so without going out of the saddle, he put some daylight between him and the others, pushing ahead solo, while behind, his teammates dutifully marked the rivals who tried to chase him down. Not even the Koppenberg (22% maximum gradient) – one of the route’s toughest ascents – could stand in the way of the Belgian Champion, whose monstrous ride helped him carry a lead of one minute into the last hour of racing.
As Gilbert continued to stomp on the pedals at the front and get closer and closer to the finish, Naesen, Sagan and Van Avermaet crashed with around 20 kilometers left, but they all remounted and got back in the race. The group reshuffled, so by the time they left Paterberg behind, three men were part of the first chasing group: Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Van Avermaet and Niki Terpstra, who bridged across on the last hill of the day. They too tried to bring the leader of the race back on the long and flat roads to Oudenaarde, but all they managed was to reduce the margin by 20 seconds.
It was only in the final kilometer that Philippe Gilbert took some time to look over his shoulder, and seeing the trio was a long way back, he decided to celebrate in style his fourth career victory in a Monument, by raising his bike over his head and crossing the line in the applause of thousands of passionate cycling fans, who witnessed the first win of a Belgian Champion in Ronde van Vlaanderen since 2008, one which came at the end of a 55km-long solo move, the longest at the race in nearly five decades.
Tour of Flanders 2017 results:
|1||Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors)|
|2||Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)|
|3||Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors)|
|4||Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac)|
|5||Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)|
|6||Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates)|
|7||John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)|
|8||Filippo Pozzato (Wilier Triestina)|
|9||Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie)|
|10||Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida)|