Despite the race format being changed, Driedaagse Brugge – De Panne continued to attract many important names at the start for the 42nd edition, which began from the beautiful Grote Markt, where the Ronde van Vlaanderen used to start between 1998 and 2016. The 202.4km-long course packed five climbs, including the infamous Kemmelberg, and three cobbled sectors, all of which featured in the first half of the race.
A breakaway comprising six men – Sean Bennett (Hagens Berman Axeon), David Boucher (Tarteletto-Isorex), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare), Ylber Safer (Tarteletto-Isorex) and Brian van Goethem (Roompot) – formed soon after the start and built a nine-minute advantage, which prompted a response from Quick-Step Floors, who sent Dwars door West-Vlaanderen winner Rémi Cavagna at the front of the peloton to control the leaders’ gap.
No splits occurred in the field on the hilly section of the race, but the status quo changed with 66 kilometers to go, as several teams decided to lift the pace in the crosswinds, hoping they will catch some favourites off-guard. Elia Viviani, together with two of his Quick-Step Floors teammates, made the cut, but a lack of collaboration allowed the chasing group to come back, just before entering on the first of the two laps around De Panne.
Ten kilometers from the finish, the pack was down to 50 riders and the escapees close to being reeled in, when a sudden acceleration blew the race apart and left around 15 riders at the front, including three of Quick-Step Floors. Eventually, the race once again came back together in De Panne, where Davide Martinelli, Florian Sénéchal and Maximiliano Richeze controlled the peloton and brought Elia Viviani to the front going into the final bend.
The 29-year-old Italian got himself into the perfect slot, carefully bided his time and waited for his opponents to make the first move, before coming around Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe) with 100 meters to go and taking his sixth victory of the year, which makes him one of the few riders to have won at least one race in each month since the start of the season.
“It’s my first European victory of the year and it gives me huge joy, as I was disappointed after Milano-Sanremo. When you start as the main favourite, there’s always more pressure, and I’m happy that I finished off my teammates’ fantastic job! It’s also my first Belgian win for a Belgian squad, and that’s also important. This success comes as confirmation of the good form I have been enjoying since the start of the year, in Australia, and then in the Middle East. We proved how strong we are and this bodes really well ahead of our next races”, Elia Viviani explained after netting Quick-Step Floors’ 17th UCI victory of the season.