Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen was able to better his 2nd place from last year and took the reduced group sprint to take the win at the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 ahead of Norwegian Kristoffer Skjerping and Belgian Tiesj Benoot.
The race began with a 5 man breakaway quietly with a 5-man breakaway getting nearly a 6 minute gap before the peloton decided to start racing. Marc Soler (Spain), Jeremy Leveau (France), Mihkel Raim (Estonia), Tomasz Mickiewicz (Poland) and Ioannis Spanopoulos (Greece) plodded along for the first 100 kilometers while the peloton rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and got over the first few climbs without any major events. Following a crash by Tanzo Tokuda (Japan), which saw him drop out of the race, the peloton started to up the pace. In the breakaway, Spanopoulos lost contact and began his very long drift back towards the group. The peloton saw a few different attacks by some including Soren Kragh (Denmark) & David Per (Slovenia) as well as Mads Pedersen (Denmark) & Robin Carpenter (USA).
The next serious attack came by Maxat Ayazbayev (Kazakhstan) on the entrance to the finishing loop, which was 23 kilometers in length and was to be completed twice. Ayazbayev, who has been on great form this spring, went solo and spent a while in no man's land trying to get up to the remnants of the breakaway. While Ayazbayev chased, the breakaway tried to ups it pace on the loop which included a trio of climbs in the Steenbeekdries, the Taaienberg and the Eikenberg. Soler, in his first international race outside of Spain, fell away from the group and was quickly followed by Mickiewicz. Ayazbayev was joined by Soler but both were swept up by the peloton, whose buzzsaw was on overdrive by that point. Leveau and Raim continued on but early in the final finishing loop, they were briefly joined by an attacking Jens Wallays before being picked up by the peloton. Robert Jon-McCarthy and Ruben Zepuntke both flatted on the incoming to the final loop and dropped out of contention.
Heading over the final three climbs, riders began to be shot out the back as the buzzsaw of Flemish bergs was in full effect. By the summit of the Eikenberg, the lead group was only at 25 riders and on the ride into Oudenaarde, Daan Myngheer (Belgium) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) attacked and got a gap of nearly 10 seconds but they were unable to hold to gap and the reduced front group came back together for the final sprint. Mike Teunissen did another brilliant lead-out, this time for Groenewegen, and propelled his national teammate to victory in the final sprint ahead of Kristoffer Skjerping (Norway) and Tiesj Benoot (Belgium). Owain Doull (Great Britain), who was the winner of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux, finished 4th while Teunissen grabbed with. There was a crash in the final sprint but the details, as of this time, are still unclear. Coming in 18 seconds down, Jan Dieteren (Germany) lead home the chasing group.
According to post race comments on directvelo, the sprint was a bit chaotic. Skjerping launched his sprint too early with 400 meters to go and with 200 meters he had to get back down in the saddle and that is when Groenewegen went around him. Benoot had a similar story about launching too early but he doesn't have the same speed as Groenewegen on a flat course. As of now, I know that Ryan Eastman (USA) and Dieter Bouvry & Bert Vanlerberghe (Belgium) were involved in the crash that occurred in the final sprint with roughly 200 meters to go.
Andrea Zordan started the pro Ronde van Vlaanderen last week and promptly DNFed it, just like the vast majority of the races he has done with Androni so far this year. He finished a fabulous 75th, many minutes down.
If anyone has any more information regarding the crash or about the race from other language sources, feel free to tweet me @Vlaanderen90 or leave a comment.