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In a photo finish, Bouhanni won Nationale Sluitingsprijs, the final road race on the European calendar, narrowly holding off Van Asbroeck and Debusschere after a bunch sprint

Photo: Sirotti

JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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NACER BOUHANNI

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NATIONALE SLUITINGPRIJS

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TOM VAN ASBROECK

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13.10.2015 @ 17:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) ended his season in the best possible way as he came out on top in Nationale Sluitingsprijs, the final road race on the European calendar. In a very close bunch sprint, he narrowly held off Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) which was enough to win the race and secure the overall victory in the UCI Europe Tour.

 

The 2015 season has been a testing one for Nacer Bouhanni. After signing a contract with Cofidis and gathering a strong lead-out train to support him, he was destined for a great year but a number of crashes have ruined his opportunities.

 

After a slow start, he was on track when he won two stages in the Dauphiné but crashes at the French championships, the Tour de France, the Vuelta a Espana and the Worlds made it impossible for him to pay back his team for their huge amount of work. Most recently, it seemed that he would end the season on a bad note when he missed the first echelon in Paris-Tours where he was the big favourite.

 

However, Bouhanni had one chance to take a major win in his season. His second place in Paris-Bourges had elevated him into the leader in the UCI Europe Tour. He had hoped to seal the victory in Tours but after he missed out on the points in his home race, he had to do today’s final European road race, Nationale Suitingsprijs, to defend his 16-point lead of Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen).

 

A troubled season ended in the best possible way for the fast Frenchman as he not only secured the Europe Tour win in Belgium. In a photo finish, he held off Tom Van Asbroeck and Jens Debusschere when the race came down to the expected bunch sprint and so added another win to his palmares on the final day of racing.

 

The Belgian season finale was held on a flat 21.76km circuit and was expected to be decided by the sprinters. However, a strong 9-rider break was nearly ruining the plans as Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Mike Teunissen, Maarten Tjallingii (Team Lotto NL-Jumbo), Wesley Kreder, Brian Van Goethem (Roompot Oranje Peloton), Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Dimitri Claeys (Verandas Willems), Olivier Chevalier (Wallonie-Bruxelles) and Oscar Riesebeek (METEC - TKH) turned out to be hard to catch.

 

At the start of the penultimate lap, the gap was still 2.25 and now it was time for Wanty-Groupe Gobert to take control. They quickly got assistance from Topsport Vlaanderen who were riding for the Europe Tour victory with Edward Theuns despite having Van Lerberghe in the break.

 

The strong chase effort had a big effect and at the start of the final lap, the escapees only had an advantage of 55 seconds. Lotto Soudal were now also chasing with Wanty and Topsport despite having van der Sande in the break.

 

The gap was slowly coming down and when it was only 25 seconds, the fast pace was too much for Chevalier who was dropped from the break. Tjallingii also had to surrender, leaving just seven riders to press on.

 

The gap was relatively stable for a few kilometres but the hard riding was taking its toll. When the gap was still 20 seconds, Riesebeek became the third rider to get dropped.

 

With 3km to go, the six leaders still had and advantage of 15 seconds. With the peloton breathing down their necks, Claeys tried a desperate solo move but with 2km to go, it was all over for the Belgian and the scene was set for a bunch sprint. It all came down to a photo finish between Bouhanni, Van Asbroeck and defending champion Debusschere but it was the Frenchman who was declared the winner of the race.

 

There is still one race left on the European calendar, Sunday’s Chrono des Nations time trial, but as neither Theuns nor Bouhanni will do that race, Bouhanni has won the UCI Europe Tour.

 

A circuit race

The 82nd Nationale Sluitingsprijs was held on a flat 21.76km circuit around the city of Putte. The riders would do 9 laps for a total distance of 195.84km and with no major technical challenges, only the wind was expected to potentially prevent a bunch sprint.

 

It was a sunny but very cold day when the riders gathered for the final European road race of the 2015 season.  They got the race off to a brutally fast opening phase and the aggressive riding meant that Tanzou Tokuda (CCT) was dropped after just a few kilometres of racing.

 

Six riders get clear

After 15km of racing, there was a small split in the peloton as 15 riders got a small advantage but at the end of the first lap, the peloton was back together. Moments later, the early break was formed when Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Mike Teunissen (Team Lotto NL-Jumbo), Wesley Kreder, Brian Van Goethem (Roompot Oranje Peloton), Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and Oscar Riesebeek (METEC - TKH) escaped and they already had an advantage of 1.40 after 25km of racing.

 

Jan Maas (Rabobank) tried to bridge the gap but the peloton accelerated to bring him back before they again slowed down. After 35km of racing, the gap had gone out to 2.23 and it was 2.38 at the end of the second lap.

 

Helven and Tolhoek abandon

A crash forced Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and Antwan Tolhoek (Rabobank Development Team) to abandon at the end of a first hour that had been done at an average speed of 46kph. Meanwhile, the peloton kept the gap at around 2.30.

 

At the end of the third lap, Verandas Willems suddenly made a big accelerated to bring the gap down to 1.50 but then the group again slowed down, allowing the gap to go out to 3.20. Topsport Vlaanderen took control and they had shaved 10 seconds off the lead at the end of the fourth lap.

 

Three riders bridge across

The peloton accelerated slightly in the next lap and at the next passage of the line, the gap was down to 2.30. This inspired Dimitri Claeys (Verandas Willems), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Olivier Chevalier (Wallobie-Bruxelles) to try to bridge across and they did a fantastic job to make the junction with 68km to go.

 

The peloton was still 2.30 behind the nine leaders and Piotr Havik (Rabobank Development Team) and Michael Vingerling (Team 3M) were the next to try to bridge that gap. With 65km to go, they were 1.30 behind the leaders.

 

That was as close as they would get and while the peloton kept the gap between 2.30 and 3.00, they started to lose ground. As they were again more than two minutes behind, they decided to wait for the bunch. That was about the time that the chase got organized and in the end it came down to the expected sprint, with Bouhanni claiming the win.

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