OUDENAARDE, Belgium — Niki Terpstra continued his fine form by winning the Tour of Flanders classic with a well-timed late attack on Sunday, becoming the first Dutch rider in more than 30 years to win the race.
Terpstra caught a mini-breakaway group of three riders on the final climb and the Quick-Step Floors rider was too far ahead to be caught. Danish rider Mads Pedersen finished second and Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert — last year’s winner — was third.
The previous Dutchman to win the race was Adri van der Poel in 1986, and this was Terpstra’s second classics win in quick succession. He also won the E3 Harelbeke on March 23.
As he neared the line in Oudenaarde, after 263 kilometres (163 miles) of grueling riding in tricky conditions, Terpstra looked round three times to see where Pedersen was. Finally, he knew victory was assured and raised his arms in the air as he free-wheeled the last 20 metres.
Along with the rain and chilly temperatures, riders weren’t helped by a stray car driving on the course in the Flemish town of Aalst, about 60 kilometres into the race.
Startled riders cautiously navigated around the slow-moving grey car, or moved aside. After a few moments, the driver finally managed to get off the course.
The race, also known as De Ronde, is one of five high-profile classics along with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.
It features 18 short but punishing climbs and five cobblestone sections.
Terpstra caught the front three — which included Pedersen — on the final grueling Paterberg cobble climb and opened up a comfortable lead.
Earlier, a crash on a slippery road took down some 10 riders, sending one of them rolling into a roadside ditch. It was similar to a crash during last year’s race, which took down 2016 winner Peter Sagan. He was not caught up in it this time.
Sagan, who won the Gent-Wevelgem classic for the third time last Sunday, finished sixth.
With 40 kilometres left, the front trio of Pedersen and Dutch pair Sebastian Langeveld and Dylan van Baarle led by about 30 seconds.
Approaching the final 25 kilometres, Italian rider Vicenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, launched a surprise attack. But he did not get far before being caught by the pack.
After catching the front three, Terpstra opened up a lead of 40 seconds. Sagan attacked with 16 kilometres left, deciding it was time to chase him down. But he realized it was a futile chase and eased up with eight kilometres left.
Paris-Roubaix, known as the "Hell of the North" for its even more challenging cobbles, is next Sunday. Last year, Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet overtook Zdenek Stybar just before the line in a thrilling finish.
But Terpstra will be the rider to stop. He also won Paris-Roubaix in 2014.