Alberto Bettiol reached the one-kilometer marker 20-seconds ahead of the chase group. The Italian, six years a professional, without a victory to his name, was moments away from winning Tour of Flanders.
In the car behind him, Andreas Klier was urging Bettiol to dig deep, to forge forward.
“I must have told him in every possible language to push to the finish,” said the EF Education First Pro Cycling sport director. “I wasn’t surprised that Alberto dropped them. That he held on? That was another story.”
Standing at the finish line was a highly emotional crew. There were EF Education First soigneurs Jon Adams and Alyssa Morahan and communication director Matthew Beaudin.
“I might have cried a little,” admitted Beaudin. He wasn’t the only one.
“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.
Twenty seconds later, Sebastian
“This is the power of pink,” said EF Education First Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “For a number of years, we’ve struggled with funding and haven’t been able to keep track of the little details that need to be tracked to win. With EF having taken over ownership, sponsorship and financial backing, we are now able from a sports science perspective, from
victory has been called a surprise, an upset. Bettiol has stunned the
favorites, according to headlines about the race.
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 in 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-kilometers, 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 kilometers 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 kilometers of my life,” said Bettiol.
His gap never wavered. He benefited from a disorganized 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.”
Credit: EF Education First Pro Cycling