Van Avermaet, twice second on the Ronde, made the decisive move over the Paterberg to become the first Belgian 'winner' of the race since Philippe Gilbert in 2017 - the result does not count officially.
The 2020 lockdown Ronde was just 32km long and comprised of three climbs – the Kruisberg, the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg – and it was over the Kruisberg that Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) and defending champion Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling) attacked.
However, they were soon joined by Thomas De Gendt (Lotto–Soudal) and Roche, and then Naesen and Van Avermaet to make it a six-man break ahead of the approach of the Oude Kwaremont, making its 63rd appearance on the Ronde.
Defending champion Bettiol was dropped as Evenepoel continued to push the pace at the head of the break opening up a mini three-second gap alongside De Gendt. However, the 20-year-old himself flagged at the base of the Paterberg, eventually getting dropped, and would finish one minute and 42 seconds in arrears. Elsewhere a spent Michael Matthews abandoned the race as the toll began to tell.
Van Avermaet, an eight-time top 10 finisher on the Tour of Flanders, began to push the pace on the sharp, punchy ascent of the Paterberg that maxed out at 20 percent and opened up a seven-second advantage ahead of the largely flat run-in to Oudenaarde.
Van Avermaet dominates virtual edition of the Tour of Flanders
Naesen, Roche and De Gendt did turns on the front as they attempted to chase down Van Avermaet but the Olympic Champion, out of his saddle and pushing out 500 watts of power, managed extend his advantage to 20 seconds.