Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First Pro Cycling) took his first professional win yesterday at the Tour of Flanders after he attacked on the Oude Kwaremont and rode away from the lead group of favourites to take the win on his own.
“In the car, on the bus, at home, they believed in me, but I didn’t believe until 100 meters from the finish,” said Bettiol. “Then I turned back, and I could see I had the victory.”
When Bettiol turned forward again, he lifted his arms over his head and blew a kiss to the crowd awaiting his arrival. He pointed to the EF logo spread across his chest. He made an “I see you” gesture, pointing first to his eyes and then to the crowd as he rolled over the finish line.
EF Education First Pro Cycling started the season’s second monument with joint leadership, shared by Bettiol and Langeveld. Normally Sep Vanmarkce would offer the team a third card to play in the final, but Vanmarcke, injured during a crash at E3 Harelbeke 10 days ago, was only confirmed to start in Antwerp two days ago. The Flandrian readily accepted a support role in his favorite race of the season.
At the start, I was doubting how long I could ride,” said Vanmarcke. “I was hoping for five hours, but the team doctor said that was really wishful thinking. During the race, I thought: ‘Okay, this won’t last long’ but the harder we raced, the better I became.”
When the race action heated up in the final 60 kilometres, Vanmarcke was among the protagonists. He followed an attack the second time up Oude-Kwaremont, becoming a part of a leading quartet alongside Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Dylan van Baarle (Sky).
“We have a very clear team tactic today,” said Klier. “We wanted to be defensive until the Muur, be aware of what would happen on the Muur, and then from there be offensive. Whenever someone moves, we move with them.”
Thirty kilometres later, an attack from Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) up the Kruisberg drew a swift response. The chasers, including Bettiol, Langeveld and Tom Scully, were closing in on the leaders.
Vanmarcke fell away from the leaders on the lower slopes of the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. He dropped to the front of the chase group and drilled it up the cobbled climb, setting the stage for Bettiol to make his decisive move.
“A champion like Sep working for us all day? It’s crazy,” said Bettiol. “This race means a lot to him, and today he helped me and Sebastian.”
Near the top of the Kwaremont, Klier directed Bettiol to attack.
“Andreas said from the car: ‘If you can, just go.’ And I closed my eyes and went,” said Bettiol. “I looked over the top. I had a gap, and from the car they said to keep pushing on, keep pushing on.”
And so the 25-year-old pushed on, stretching his advantage to 20-seconds over the top of the Paterberg, the final climb. From there it was flat, 14-kilometer run to the finish line.
“It was the longest 14 kilometres of my life,” said Bettiol.
His gap never wavered. He benefited from a disorganised chase and the composition of the sprint-heavy chase group. No one rider or team wanted to commit to the work, and Langeveld was on-hand to squash any momentum the chasers attempted to build.
“I saw on Sporza what Sebas did on the Paterberg, how he stopped the peloton,” said Bettiol. “It was amazing.”
Bettiol’s victory is the seventh this season for a rejuvenated EF Education First Pro Cycling. He praised the team effort that resulted in his climb to the top step of the Tour of Flanders podium in Oudenaarde on Sunday evening.
“Behind this success is the work of thousands of people,” he said. “Behind this win is my teammates and all the staff at EF, from all the service guys standing for hours with the wheels, we were covered 27 times on course today, the sport directors, the mechanics, the media guys, the directors. Everyone, everything. It’s a dream.”
“Today is my day, but I’m sure in the future many of my teammates will enjoy this same moment as me,” Bettiol added. “I think from now on you should be looking more at pink at the front.”