OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — After riding aggressively for much of Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, Trek-Segafredo saw its chances at a podium finish slowly evaporate on the final ascent of the Paterberg. Coming into the climb, Trek’s Italian breakaway man Fabio Felline looked to be in contention for a top-three finish, riding in the first chase group alongside Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac) and Nicki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors).
As van Avermaet applied pressure on the grueling 1.3km stretch of cobbles, Felline lost pace, drifting back toward the chasing peloton and eventually finishing 19th after leading out Trek’s classics man John Degenkolb. Degenkolb was the team’s top finisher in 7th.
Team director sportif Dirk Demol said the team “missed just a little bit” in its ambitions during the race. The strong rides of Felline and Degenkolb, Demol said, bode well for next week’s Paris-Roubaix.
“It was a really strong team, yes we missed just a little bit,” Demol said. “I’ve seen a good team at Gent-Wevelgem, and a stronger team today, so hopefully we’ll be even stronger next Sunday.”
Jasper Stuyven made the day’s first major selection over the Muur de Geraardsbergen after Quick-Step attacked the famed climb with Tom Boonen, Matteo Trentin, and Philippe Gilbert with 95km remaining. Stuyven, 24, survived with the group for the ensuing 40km, but was unable to mark the attack by Gilbert on the Oude Kwaremont, and was dropped on the ensuing ascent of the Paterberg.
That’s when Felline, 27, sprung from the dwindling peloton with van Baarle and quickly opened a small group. The duo was later joined by Peter Sagan, van Avermaet, and Trentin, who also attacked out of the bunch.
This year marks Felline’s first full season racing on the cobbles. In previous years he focused on the hilly Ardennes races, as well as the Giro d’Italia. Demol said the Italian has shown himself to be a fast learner in Belgian racing.
“Fabio is a very good rider, he just misses these [Belgian] riders’s knowledge of the parcours,” Demol said. “I will bring him back here in the summer to do a recon so he can train on these roads.”
Trek entered Belgium’s classics season with one of the strongest—albeit youngest—squads in the WorldTour, with Belgian strongmen Edward Theuns and Jasper Stuyven joining classics veteran Gregory Rast in support of the team’s splashy offseason acquisition, Degenkolb.
Throughout February and March, Trek rode aggressively at cobbled races such as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3-Harelbeke, often helping create decisive splits. Yet the team failed to capitalize on its efforts with victories or podium places.
Degenkolb was fifth at Gent-Wevelgem after missing out on a critical attack by van Avermaet and Peter Sagan in the waning kilometers. Thus far, Felline’s fourth place finish at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad stands as the team’s top finish during the 2017 classics season.
Degenkolb, 28, said he did not have the strength to follow the strongest riders in the closing meters of Sunday’s race. But with Gilbert on such strong form, Degenkolb said, he does not know if making over the bergs in the chase group would have been good enough to win.
“In the end I unfortunately did not have the legs to follow on the Taaienberg,” Degenkolb said. “If one guy makes a solo ride of 70km there’ not much you can do against it.”