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The Lotto Soudal rider was part of an elite group of six riders that went clear over the Berg ten Houte and rode all the way to the line, mopping up the day’s early breakaway in the process.
Hoping to avoid a sprint finish, Campenaerts attacked several times in the final kilometers with the most promising was a move on the descent off the Holstraat. He built up a small lead before Tiesj Benoot and Tom Pidcock joined him, putting in such an effort that a crown he’d had put in six years ago came out.
“It was a tooth that had been set right after a fall in the Tour de Romandie in 2016. They had said after the repair that it would break again after five years, but it has become six,” Campanaerts joked at the finish line.
Campenaerts went into the race setup to try and rip it up with a blistering attack. The time trialist and world hour record holder put a 58-tooth chainring on his Ridley bike, compared to the 53-tooth setup that breakaway companion Tom Pidcock had.
Campenaerts did attempt to make a move off the front with about 20 kilometers to go but much of the attacks came in the final 10 kilometers. The Belgian was hoping for a much more aggressive finale to utilize his setup more.
In the end, he missed out on the move by Mathieu van der Poel and Tiesj Benoot, forcing him into a sprint for third. Despite his bigger chainring, it was Pidcock that had the power to cross the line for third place.
“We wished that there were more attacks to cause some chaos but there were no attacks, so I decided to do an attack myself, which was not bad but there was not so much hesitation. It is like it is,” he said.
One of the major absentees from the key breakaway was Dwars door Vlaanderen debutante Tadej Pogačar. The Tour de France champion was forced into chasing solo across the ever-increasing void, but he never made it and was ultimately reeled back in by what remained of the peloton.
For a brief moment, it showed that the all-beating Pogačar was indeed human. It also proved the old adage about the cobbled classics that knowledge is key. We would not see a repeat of Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem where an inexperienced debutant upset the favorites.
“We just got away on Berg ten Houte, I think, with the best riders, except for Pogačar. We had to do a chase and he couldn’t make it,” Campenaerts explained. “We had good cooperation in the group but then in the end I think I had the legs to maybe win the race but you also need a bit of luck. I am quite disappointed that I didn’t make it onto the podium, my sprint was just not strong enough to get rid of Pidcock.
“If you don’t make it to the front on Berg ten Houte then I think you miss a bit of experience on the Flanders roads. For sure, he is very strong but if you miss out on the breakaway of the day and you are not able to make it back then you are not going to win the race.”
Campenaerts had stern words about his team’s sport director when speaking to the press at the finish line. While Campenaerts was quick to jump on Mathieu van der Poel’s wheel when the Dutchman started moving clear, he had been told to hold fire — something he was glad that he ignored.
“I felt really good in this race. I am a bit against the tactics of sports director Nikolas Maes. He had told me that I was only allowed to attack after van der Poel had gone twice. I felt good and couldn’t wait. The group stayed together well. It was nice with my buddy Benoot, it would have been nice.”
Wednesday ended in disappointment but Campenaerts can still ride away with some confidence ahead of the Tour of Flanders after making his debut at the race last season.
“Sunday is the Tour of Flanders and maybe I can get a good result at the Tour of Flanders, let’s go for that,” he said. “Racing in Flanders is always exciting and I feel that I have good legs and I have the shape to follow the big riders on the hills. Let’s see how it goes after 200k on Sunday.”