Alexander Kristoff became the first Norwegian rider to win the Tour des Flandres classic when he beat Dutchman Niki Terpstra in a sprint finish, while Jesse Sergent avoided a more serious injury after being knocked off his bike by a car.
Kristoff, the winner of last year’s Milano-Sanremo classic, chose his moment to attack on the home stretch and easily held off Terpstra as they dashed to the line.
“It’s a really good feeling. My family is here today, and it was a big dream and my big goal this season,” Kristoff said. “At the end, I came with Niki and he didn’t really want to work with me, but I understand that. In the end I could still beat him.”
Belgian rider Greg van Avermaet, who was runner-up to three-time champion Fabian Cancellara last year, again missed out on victory as he rolled in just behind in third place.
Earlier in the race, a Shimano neutral service car clipped Trek Factory Racing rider Sergent, who was in a breakaway group.
The New Zealander sustained a broken left collarbone, a week after teammate Cancellara suffered two minor fractures to his lower back at the E3 Harelbeke classic.
Terpstra, the defending Paris-Roubaix champion, knew he had to make a move on Kristoff in the final few hundred meters, because the Norwegian is the superior sprinter.
Looking over his right shoulder, Kristoff waited patiently for the attack to come. When Terpstra tried to pass him, the Norwegian stood up in his saddle and launched a blistering charge of his own as he pedaled away to his 10th victory of the year.
Terpstra will get a chance to make amends at next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix classic on the treacherous cobblestones of northern France, where the weather conditions are often a far cry from the warm weather of Sunday’s race.
Then, with about 110km remaining, Sergent was knocked off his bike in what could have been a far more dangerous incident.
“Be strong Jesse..!!!,” teammate Cancellara tweeted.
It was a reminder of how risky races can be when cars are allowed close to riders.
On the 2011 Tour, Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland ended up covered in cuts and bruises after he was sent flying off his bike by a media car and went over a barbed wire fence. Another rider, Spanish veteran Juan Antonio Flecha, was also taken down by the media car, which was thrown out of the race.
With about 13km to go, Van Avermaet broke away from the pack and chased after the front two, who now led by about 20 seconds. Peter Sagan soon joined Van Avermaet as they tried to close the gap on Terpstra and Kristoff.
However, it became clear it would become a race to the line between the two.
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