Geraint Thomas: Team Sky rider wins E3 Harelbeke in Belgium
Geraint Thomas has become the first British rider to win the formidable E3 Harelbeke race in Belgium.
The 215km race, one of the hardest on the professional circuit, is a warm-up for the Tour of Flanders on 5 April.
Thomas, 28, took control with just over four kilometres left to drop breakaway riders Zdenek Stybar and Slovakia's defending champion Peter Sagan.
"I thought if I could surprise them a bit early I might be able to get away," the Welshman told Belgian TV.
|This year's cobbled capers|
|28 Feb: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad - 200km, won by Britain's Ian Stannard|
|1 Mar: Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne - 195km, won by Britain's Mark Cavendish|
|25 Mar: Dwars door Vlaanderen - 200km, won by Belgium's Jelle Wallays|
|27 Mar: E3 Harelbeke - 215km, 17 climbs, won by Britain's Geraint Thomas|
|29 Mar: Gent-Wevelgem - 239km, nine climbs|
|5 Apr: Tour of Flanders - 264km, 19 climbs, nine cobbled, one of cycling's 'Monuments'|
|8 Apr: Scheldeprijs - 204km, seven cobbled sections|
|12 Apr: Paris-Roubaix - 253km, 27 cobbled sections, another 'Monument'|
|Read Geraint Thomas's guide to the Spring Classics|
The E3 Harelbeke is one of eight one-day races - or 'cobbled classics' - between late February and mid-April and Great Britain riders have now won three of the first four.
Fellow Britons Ian Stannard and Mark Cavendish have taken victories prior to Wales' Thomas winning in five hours 14 minutes and 57 seconds, 25 seconds clear of Czech rider Stybar.
"I can't really believe it to be honest," Thomas said. "I just imagined I was trying to hold on to [GB track cycling team-mate] Ed Clancy's wheel in a team pursuit.
"[Stybar and Sagan] were blowing a bit, but I wasn't sure if they were bluffing. I'm just delighted to win this one and anything else is a bonus now."
Thomas will now go to the Tour of Flanders as a real contender for Team Sky's first win in a "Monument" - cycling's five biggest one-day races.
The Flemish epic is now wide open after Swiss star Fabian Cancellara crashed out of the E3 Harelbeke. He joined fellow three-time champion Tom Boonen on the casualty list after the Belgian was injured in the Paris-Nice stage race earlier this month.
1. Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky) 5hrs 15mins
2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze/Etixx-Quick-Step) + 25secs
3. Matteo Trentin (Ita/Etixx -Quick-Step) + 38secs
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor/Team Katusha) same time
5. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel/Team LottoNL-Jumbo) same time
6. Matti Breschel (Den/Tinkoff-Saxo) same time
7. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel/Lotto Soudal) same time
8. Jack Bauer (NZ/Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team) same time
9. Jens Keukeleire (Bel/Orica GreenEdge) same time
10. Daniel Oss (Ita/BMC Racing Team) same time
13. Luke Rowe (Gbr/Team Sky) same time
26. Ian Stannard (Gbr/Team Sky) + 46secs
DNF Andrew Fenn (Gbr/Team Sky)
DNF Adam Blythe (Gbr/Orica GreenEdge)