Imanol rides 180km among the leaders at today's Tour of Flanders, matching the very best on the tortuous climbs and pavé sections to achieve the first cobbled classic Top 10 in the Movistar Team's long history – and becoming only the second Spanish rider, after Juan Antonio Flecha, to finish among the leaders
The truth is, Eusebio Unzué's men were looking forward today's Tour of Flanders more in hope than expectation. That was until one of the great team players in Spanish cycling over recent years, Imanol Erviti, turned the pre-race forecasts upside down with 7th place at the race finish in Oudenaarde. It made him only the second Spaniard in history, after Juan Antonio Flecha, to achieve a top ten finish in the Ronde.
A colossal performance started more than 180km from the finish, when Imanol made the early breakaway. He attacked out of that first, 6-man group with Van Hoecke (TSV). They were then joined by Greipel (LTS) and others. On the second ascent of the Kwaremont and Paterberg, Imanol stood his ground, before crossing the fearsome Koppenberg in fourth place. Sagan (TNK), Kwiatkowski (SKY) and Vanmarcke (TLJ) bridged across soon after the Kruisberg. At that point, with little more than 20km to go, Imanol began to contemplate a possibility that had seemed unthinkable at the start: disputing the race finish among the very best.
On the final Kwaremont-Paterberg crossing, nerves and legs of steel allowed him to cross in Cancellara's esteemed company. Soon afterwards, a second chasing group formed behind Sagan and Vanmarcke. Imanol crossed the final Muur in fifth position. Then, caught by the elite group destined to fight for fourth place, he summoned his remaining reserves for the final sprint. His seventh place was the finest ever finish for the Movistar Team in the greatest of the Flemish classics, and crowned a day that Imanol and his team-mates will never forget.
Imanol Erviti: "How do I feel? Tired! [He laughs] Today has been like a testimonial for me, riding at the front on the Muurs, with so many people at the roadside enjoying the atmosphere… it was incredible. A great feeling, wonderful. I enjoyed myself. But it was a maximum effort. When Sagan, Kwiatkowski and Vanmarcke bridged across to us from the rear, they were going very fast and I could only try to stay with them and ride my own race intelligently. Until the last moment, I didn't think it feasible to be fighting for a top-ten place or achieving a good result in general. It was an ambition, but until the top of the Paterberg I wasn't confident, not because I wasn't capable of it, but because I had used up so much energy, and behind they were coming up very fast and it is always difficult. In Flanders, the race always comes from behind, and I thought it would be unlikely.
"After that last climb, where I was with Terpstra and the group including Kristoff caught us, I began to hope. In the sprint, I gave it everything. I thought I could get past Van Baarle for 6th place, but I had pretty bad cramp and I could barely turn the pedals. I have a long journey home now and I want to get back to my family, hug my wife and son, and thank all the people who help and support me, who have made it possible for me to achieve this result: team-mates, the race director, everyone. It is wonderful to have experienced this. Now it is time to rest, savour the result, and turn my thoughts to the Ardennes with Alejandro [Valverde]. They are important races for us and I want to do my job well."