Narrow roads, cobblestones, jostling for position and traffic furniture all ensure that crashes will always be a part of the Tour of Flanders. But the 2014 edition of the Belgian “Monument” seemed even more crash-marred than usual.

Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) crashed early and was hospitalised with concussion, Geraint Thomas (Sky) hit the deck (as he seems to have a habit of doing around this time of year), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) came a cropper, Russian national champion Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) appeared to collide with a power pole, Yaroslav Popovych (Trek) caught his handlebars in a spectators clothing and crashed hard, and Johan Vansummeren’s day was over when he collided at high-speed with a spectator.

Among the many other riders to crash was two-time winner Stijn Devolder (Trek) who hit the ground at least twice and looked to be down and out. But somehow the Belgian national champion got back on, sporting a nasty swollen elbow, and managed to finish the race.

It took the best part of 40km for the day’s break of 11 riders to make their escape. Stig Broeckx (Lotto Belisol), Davide Appolonio (AG2R), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Raymond Kreder (Garmin-Sharp), Wesley Kreder (Wanty Group), Alexander Kuchynski (Katusha), Andrea Palini (Lampre Merida), Taylor Phinney (BMC), James Vanlandschoot (Wanty Group), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Romain Zingle (Cofidis) got away and set about building an advantage that peaked above six minutes but was never likely to last until the finish.

As expected, the leading group’s advantage started to waste away as the riders hit the Oude Kwaremont for the first time, the first of 17 climbs on the day. And just as the leaders’ advantage was dwindling, so too were the number of riders in that group.

By the time the leaders hit the Oude Kwaremont for the second time — the 10th climb of the day with roughly 50km of the day’s 259km remaining — just three riders remained of the breakaway: Phinney, Impey and Broeckx. Behind them the race was starting to get interesting.

Stijn Devolder’s final crash of the day, combined with the first ascent of the challenging Paterberg climb, created a decisive split in the peloton, with only about 40 riders left in contention. And when they hit the infamous Koppenberg climb Daryl Impey became the sole remnant of the day’s breakaway while Omega Pharma-QuickStep, led by Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra, started to flex its muscle in the reduced peloton.

Impey was soon caught and an elite group of 15-20 were at the head of affairs. A brief escape by Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky), Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was caught with 33km remaining. Two kilometres later, and with the Kruisberg and Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg combination remaining, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) made his bid for a long-range victory, dragging Vandenbergh with him.

The BMC rider was left to do all the work in the leading duo, with Stijn Vandenbergh taking the passenger’s seat. He had three teammates in the group behind and no real reason to expend any energy.

With the Kruisberg behind them and just 22km remaining in the race, Van Avermaet and Vandenbergh had a lead of 26 seconds over an elite chase group. Two kilometres later, that chase group swelled as another group joined them from behind. This bigger group worked to the advantage of Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who’d been isolated in the chase group to that point, and his Cannondale domestiques set about burying themselves on the run into the Oude Kwaremont — the day’s penultimate climb.

In last year’s race Fabian Cancellara used the Oude Kwaremont to distance himself from all bar two of his rivals, before breaking Peter Sagan on the Paterberg and riding to a solo win. Yesterday Cancellara attacked on the Oude Kwaremont again, but Sagan was nowhere to be seen, and nor was Tom Boonen.

It was only Sep Vanmarcke (who had crashed earlier) who was able to respond to the Swiss powerhouse, and the pair crested the climb just 15 seconds behind Van Avermaet and Vandenbergh.

On the Paterberg Van Avermaet dropped Vandenbergh, and Vanmarcke tried to dispose of Cancellara. But Cancellara caught back on, as did Vandenbergh. And so, with 13km to go, it was Greg Van Avermaet leading solo, 10 seconds ahead of the trio of Cancellara, Vanmarcke and Vandenbergh.

Two kilometres later the four riders came together. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) tried to come across, solo at first and then with Niki Terpstra, but his efforts were in vain and with 5km to go it was clear that the winner was going to come from the leading quartet.

Vandenbergh appeared freshest of the four, having sat on Van Avermaet’s wheel for the past half-hour or so, and tried his luck with 3.4km to go. But his attempt was quickly nullified, along with a string of other attacks.

The cat-and-mouse games started inside the final kilometre and with 300m to go it was Cancellara who launched his sprint first. He got a gap on his companions and held it to the line, winning his third Tour of Flanders ahead of Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke.

For Omega Pharma-QuickStep it must have been a day of disappointment, having had four riders in the leading group of 11 in the closing stages, and still failing to miss the podium. But for Cancellara and Trek Factory Racing it was time to celebrate. Of the last 11 Monuments that Cancellara has finished, he’s won five, come second four times and came third twice. Talk about consistency.

The talk will now turn to next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix and the question of whether Spartacus can be the first rider to do the Flanders-Roubaix double in the same year, three times.