Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team (Belgium) – The 26-year-old became the first rider to take back-to-back victories at the prestigious Belgian Classic.
Yves Lampaert sailed to a memorable win in a rain-soaked edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen (180.1 kilometers) after accelerating with 800 meters to go from a select group which attacked inside the last 25 kilometers, when three more hills and a cobblestone sectors were still left on the menu. For Lampaert, who came at the start as the defending champion, this was his first win of the season, one that helped Quick-Step Floors increase the gap at the top of the World Tour classification.
The 73rd edition of the classic, which was raced in atrocious conditions, was enlivened only 80 kilometers from the finish, when several riders pinged off the front, forcing the others to react. Quick-Step Floors took the matters into their own hands, with the experienced and hard-working Iljo Keisse moving to the front of the bunch and splitting it into four groups. The wintry conditions, the crashes and the suffering led to more and more abandons, so by the time the riders hit the Taaienberg, one of the race's main climbs, only 30 riders were still left at the front.
After Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra attacked on the iconic hill last week at E3 Harelbeke, this time it was Zdenek Stybar who rode away on the brutal cobbles, forcing another important selection before being reeled in by a group which included two Quick-Step Floors teammates. Later, when Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) went, Yves Lampaert was one of the riders to chase down that move and make the junction, thus hitting the reshuffle button yet again.
A group of 12 men, three of whom were Lampaert, Stybar and Terpstra, entered in the last 25 kilometers of the race, when Sep Vanmarche (EF Education) intensified the pace and went into the offensive, being joined by four other riders. The always-attentive Lampaert was there and didn't spare any effort as he put in some amazing pulls, helping the quintet open a 50-second advantage on the chasers. So confident was the 26-year-old that he led the others over the top of the Nokereberg and covered every single move of his opponents, before the classic cat-and-mouse game ensued under the flamme rouge arch.
When Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) attacked, Yves responded in the blink of an eye and then, sensing a lull in the group, he sprinted and went into time trial mode, quickly putting a significant distance between him and the other four. When the finish line in Waregem came into sight, Lampaert's gap was so big that he sat up and celebrated his first victory of the season, one which took Quick-Step Floors' 2018 season tally to 20 wins.
Czech Champion Zdenek Stybar, who countered an attack of Benoot in the closing kilometers, took sixth, while Niki Terpstra – the E3 Harelbeke victor – came across the line in ninth place, adding to the team's impressive points haul in the World Tour rankings after 12 races.
"We knew the weather could influence the race, so we had two plans. Go for a sprint with Elia or make it really hard for the others in case he wasn't there in the final part of the race. When Viviani got caught behind, together with Niki and Styby we decided to ride hard and see what happens, especially as the rain and cold took their toll on the riders and many were on their limit", said Yves Lampaert, after retaining his crown and becoming the first ever rider to win Dwars door Vlaanderen in consecutive years.
"When the hostilities began and Vanmarcke attacked, Niki told me to go, so I jumped and joined the front group. We worked together there and rode full gas, making sure we had a nice advantage for the final. Then, when Pedersen attacked, I responded and seeing I had got a gap, I sprinted to increase my margin and gave everything I had in the tank, knowing many of my rivals were faster. I am super happy to get another win in this race, with such a high-level field and so close to my home. To resume our winning run in Belgium feels great and gives us an extra boost of confidence ahead of Sunday's De Ronde", concluded Lampaert, the tenth different Quick-Step Floors rider to have won a race this season.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images.