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Niki Terpstra takes an impressive solo win at E3 Harelbeke

Joe Robinson
23 Mar 2018

The Dutchman rides alone to the finish fighting off a talented group of chasers

Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) takes victory at the 2018 E3 Harelbeke after having attacked with over 65km remaining. The exciting day of racing saw Terpstra and teammate Yves Lampaert away in a two-up break for most of the day with Terpstra eventually going solo.

Strong legs and a stuttering chase allowed the Dutchman claim the win ahead of teammate Philippe Gilbert in second and defending champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) in third.

What happened where at the 2018 E3 Harelbeke

Kickstarting a weekend of Belgian semi-Classics, E3 Harelbeke often acts as a mini-Tour of Flanders allowing many of the hot favourites to test the bergs at race pace before the Ronde in just over a week's time. 

On the menu today included ascents of the Taaienberg, Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont and Tiegenberg making this a true test for even the best riders.

Cold conditions and the threat of wind threatened the race with the first hour passing in speedy fashion with an average speed of 43km/h.

Beyond the main bunch, a break eight escaped with the most noticable rider being last year's Tro-Bro Leon winner Damien Gaudin (Direct-Energie). 

The lead group managed to build a healthy lead of around six minutes before the peloton began to tug on the reigns, mainly due to Tim Declerq (Quick-Step Floors). 

Disaster struck for some as a large crash broke the peloton in to two. Favourites such as Sep Vanmarcke (EF-Drapac), Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) all found themselves trapped subsequently chasing back on.

Sensing an opportunity, Quick-Step Floors deployed the cavalry to the front with Declerq and Iljo Keisse setting a blistering speed, building a minute lead almost immediately.

It came as no suprise that breakaway riders Gaudin and Pim Lighart (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij) pushed on from their companions, going ahead alone with 85km left to go.

Not long after Lighart and Guadin pushed on, Quick-Step had chased down the remnants of the original break absorbing them into the reduced group of chasers.

The pace became electric as the main bunch hit the base of the Taaienberg as Lampaert and Terpstra shot off of the front with a clean set of heels.

These were hotly pursued by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Gilbert. 

Lampaert and Terpstra worked well in tandem catching the last remaining members of the breakaway and immediately began setting a solid pace.

The big names really began to earn their pay as Terpstra and Lampaert led the charge chased by Sagan, Benoot and Van Avermaet hunted them down. Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar hung behind, acting as anchor of the chasing trio.

As the peloton went through the 60km to go mark, Quick-Step had the numerical advantage which played havoc with Sagan's plans. While they all played cat and mouse, defending champion Van Avermaet rolled the dice attacking the chasing group.

At times too much was happening to follow which was certainly exciting for the viewer. While Van Avermaet was in no man's land, Gilbert jumped the gun attacking to leave Sagan, Benoot and a tiring Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott).

Benoot bridged to Gilbert and began eating into GVA's advantage almost immediately. 

Being teammates, the workload was shared unevenly with Lampaert sacrificing himself for Terpstra and they kept the time gap at a steady 48 seconds.

The lion's share of the work in the chase group came from Benoot who perhaps showed some naivety dragging Van Avermaet and Gilbert along.

While it seemed as if the leading two were untouchable, the chasing trio found themselves within eyesight of a larger group containing a selection of riders including Vanmarcke.

Like clockwork, Gilbert attacked after kilometres of sitting in the wheels. A tiring Van Avermaet and Benoot couldn't answer the acceleration as Gilbert went on the hunt to catch his teammates. Unfortunately for Phil Gil, his teammates were in no mood for waiting and his surge was short lived.

With 24km remainig, Terpstra decided it was time to go solo leaving teammate Lampaert to fight alone. Behind him various riders tried their luck bridging the gap but it seemed no rider was willing to burn the matches needed to get across.

As the kilometres ticked by it by Terpstra managed to keep the gap although temporary teamwork by BMC Racing, Naesen and Vanmarcke saw the gap decrease but not by enough.

E3 Harelbeke top 10

1- Niki Terpstra (NED) Quick-Step Floors in 5:03:34
2- Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Quick-Step Floors at 0:20
3- Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) BMC Racing at same time
4- Oliver Naesen (BEL) AG2R La Mondiale at st
5- Tiesj Benoot (BEL) Lotto-Soudal at st
6- Jasper Stuyven (BEL) Trek-Segafredo at st
7- Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) EF-Drapac at st
8- Gianni Moscon (ITA) Team Sky at st
9- Zdenek Stybar (CZE) Quick-Step Floors at st
10- Stefan Kung (SUI) BMC Racing at st