Greg Van Avermaet stood on the podium for the first time during the spring classics after taking third place in a nail-biting edition of Record Bank E3 Harelbeke.
Eight riders formed the day's breakaway and quickly gained an advantage of more than six minutes in the lead up to the first sector, the Wolvemnberg.
With only two sectors in the first 100km of the 206.5km race, the race situation remained calm until a huge crash wiped out or blocked half the peloton with 108km remaining, and blocked Jempy Drucker, Stefan Küng, Jürgen Roelandts, and Michael Schär.
Van Avermaet was joined by Alberto Bettiol and Francisco Ventoso in the front group which immediately started to eat into the breakaway's advantage with a hard pace being set to maintain the split in the peloton.
An attack from Niki Terpstra and Yves Lampaert (Quickstep Floors) with 70km to go caused more splits behind as riders tried to chase, and created a small chase group featuring Van Avermaet and many of the other race favorites.
Terpstra and Lampaert established a one-minute advantage and with 55km remaining, Van Avermaet powered away from the rest of the chase group before being caught by Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) and Philippe Gilbert (Quickstep-Floors).
Behind, the main peloton, featuring Küng and Roelandts, began to gain some ground and with 25km to go, caught Van Avermaet's group to strengthen the chase behind then-solo leader Terpstra.
The BMC Racing Team trio was working hard as part of the chasing group with each rider taking their turn at the front approaching the 20km to go mark.
Terpstra's advantage was holding steady at around 35 seconds as the race entered the final 10km of the day before a series of attacks, including two strong moves from Van Avermaet, saw the chasers start to close in on him.
Küng was driving hard at the front of the group as the gap fell to 15 seconds with just 3km to go and soon after, Roelandts went on the attack.
This move saw the chasing group strung out along the road heading under the flamme rouge. However, it all came back together again by the time the riders hit the finishing straight, 20 seconds behind the lone leader.
In the end, Terpstra was able to hold on to take the day's honors ahead of his teammate Philippe Gilbert and Van Avermaet, who dug deep in the closing meters and was able to find the extra kick needed to sprint on to the podium in third place.
Küng and Roelandts also showed their strength and determination in the final stages of today's race and finished 10th and 12th respectively.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
"The problem was I did a lot of efforts in the middle of the race and then when the big group came back to us it was a bit hard for me to reset my legs and try to find a little bit of freshness again. It was hard to close [the gap]. We all had to work together and while we had three guys in there, the most important thing was that everyone worked together to try and pull Terpstra back but he was super strong. On the big road, we went pretty fast but we didn't come much closer to him so I think in the end, probably the strongest guy won."
"I was super happy with my legs and my race. I put in a lot of effort and it was also a good training for me. In the end, I am also pretty happy with my result. I am on the podium and okay, it is not a win but I know how hard it is to win these kinds of races so I am pretty happy with what I did today."
"Stefan did everything he could to keep it rolling and also Jürgen tried to do his best with a few attacks but it was super hard because if we had really taken the lead with two guys, the others could have saved their legs too and that would also have made them harder to beat. There were some fast guys like Trentin in the group. We had Gilbert who never did one pull and his team were also not pulling so it was a big risk. We tried to do our best and it is sometimes pretty complicated in a race."
"First of all, I was lucky I didn't go down in the crash. I was stuck in it and my bike was broken but I got my spare bike pretty quickly and then I could start to chase. It was quite hard to get back there because it was an uphill section with a bit of headwind but together with Moscon we managed to get back in there. I felt like 'okay this is the first group now' and then Jürgen told me about the forty guys in front with Greg. To be honest, when they couldn't get closer, it was always around 1'30", I thought the race could be over. But then we caught group after group, rider after rider. Jürgen and I worked well together and with his experience, he helped to get me into the right position. We were able to stay up there with the best guys before catching Greg's group."
"It was then a question of what we did from there. We had the numbers but Quick-Step Floors still had two guys so, if we closed the gap and they sat on then the attacking would start all over again. I tried to make a little selection but it was hard. We did our best and to be honest I don't know what we could have done differently. We finished with a podium place and we know that we are ready as a team and that's something that we can take away from the race."
"Today's result was my best in a classic. I was feeling good the whole day and even when we hit the Kwaremont, I knew that I had it in my legs to follow the strongest guys. For me, it was definitely a bit of a confidence boost as over the last few years I have always had some issues heading into the classics. I was maybe a little over excited and I was always caught up in crashes or had mechanicals. Now, I know that if everything works well that I have the legs to be in a good position. It is good to be up there as that's what we live for, to race for the win and I hope to be up there in the final of the next races too."
"There were some captains from other teams also stuck behind the crash, namely Naesen and the Astana Pro Team guys and Sep Vanmarcke. Those three teams were really pulling the whole time but of course at the front, they were also pulling. It was really a race in every part of the peloton so that made it hard. It was a very open race but I think Stefan and I kept a good position in the front all the time and we also showed we had good legs. At one point it was easy because we were with eight guys and Greg was in front so we didn't have to ride but then we came to Greg and Terpstra was still in front so we needed to start riding obviously. I think Terpstra did a really big effort because we were turning with nine guys and he stayed out in front so I think he deserved the victory. I think everyone was on the limit because some of the other guys had also come from the back."
"I tried an all or nothing approach with 1.5km to go but Trentin closed the gap and it was then over for me for the sprint. Greg always has a good sprint after a hard race and he showed that today. After my fifth place in Milan-San Remo and being in the front group here I think I showed some good signs for the next two weeks. The team was also in a good condition so I am looking forward to the races coming up."
Sports Director, Fabio Baldato:
"The best thing to take from today is the condition of the riders. I saw a great Stefan Kung and Jurgen Roelandts. Stefan was one of the last to start from the crash and he was able to make it back into the race. Greg Van Avermaet did an amazing ride like always. Quickstep had the numbers in front and they rode well, and they put other riders in difficultly. The good thing is the performance of the team with three riders in the top 12 and Greg on the podium. Of course, we can talk together and see what we can do better, what we did wrong, how to improve communication in the final between all of us, even me, to be better."
Record Bank E3 Harelbeke
Harelbeke > Harelbeke (206.5km)
Top 3: 1. Nikki Terpstra (Quickstep-Floors), 2. Philippe Gilbert (Quickstep-Floors), 3. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team).
BMC Racing Team top 3: 3. Greg Van Avermaet, 10. Stefan Küng, 12. Jürgen Roelandts.