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With a powerful final burst, Bouhanni easily passed Boeckmans to take a hugely dominant sprint victory in Halle-Ingooigem; Boeckmans and Theuns completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti








24.06.2015 @ 17:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After his two victories in the Criterium du Dauphiné, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) confirmed that he will be a strong contender in both the French championships and the Tour de France when he won the traditional warm-up race Nacer Bouhanni. In a crash-marred sprint, the Frenchman was in a class of his own as he easily passed Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) and had plenty of time to celebrate his second victory in the Belgian one-day race.


Nacer Bouhanni got the 2015 season off to a slow start. However, he never lost the confidence and always believed that he would reach top condition in time for the Tour de France which is his big season goal.


It seems that the Cofidis rider has timed everything perfectly and he is now back at full speed less than two weeks before the start of the the world’s biggest race. A few weeks ago he won two stages in the Criterium du Dauphiné and today he confirmed his excellent form by powering to his second victory in the Halle-Ingooigem semi-classic.


The Belgian one-day race is often used as the final test for the sprinters ahead of their National Championships and is often decided in a bunch sprint. This year was no exception as it came down to a final battle between the fast finishers but a strong late breakaway nearly denied the sprinters the chance to sprint.


At the start of the final 18.9km lap of the finishing circuit, the peloton had split in two after Etixx-QuickStep had ridden hard on one of the two hellingen on the circuit. Most of the favourites had made it into the first group and it was FDJ and Wanty-Groupe Gobert leading the chase in the second group, 27 seconds behind the leaders.


Many of the big names were contributing to the pace-setting in the front group, with Zdenek Stybar, Stijn Vandenbergh, Sep Vanmarcke, Niki Terpstra, Kenny Dehaes, Stijn Devolder and several Topsport riders all taking turns on the front. However, they were losing ground to the second group which was just 15 seconds behind when they hit the Hellestraat helling with 15km to go.


Here Vandenbergh and Tosh van der Sande set a fast pace that kept the second group at bay. After the top, Vandenbergh, Bram Tankink, Stybar, Jens Keukeleire, Dehaes and Vanmarcke made sure that the pace was fast before Dehaes and Jelle Wallays (Topsport) suddenly got an unintentional gap.


Vanmarcke, Nikolas Maes (Etixx-QuickStep) and Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis) were quick to react and they managed to join the move that quickly got a 10-second advantage. Soupe didn’t do any work as he was protecting Bouhanni and as they went up the Tiegemberg, Devolder was close to bringing it back together for Trek.


However, the former Tour of Flanders winner didn’t get any help and when he started to fade, the gap went out again. This opened the door for Terpstra to take off and after a long solo chase, he made the junction with 7km to go.


With 6km to go, the gap was still 10 seconds and Trek were still doing all the work in the peloton. However, Cofidis decided to focus 100% on Bouhanni and as they also started to work, the gap came down.


As the break was about to be caught, Maes launched an attack before being joined by Vanmarcke and Wallays. Dehaes and Terpstra worked hard to get back and finally Soupe also made the junction with 3km to go.


Vanmarcke took a huge turn that allowed the group to reopen their advantage before Wallays took off. Vanmarcke brought the group back together with 3km to go but after the two pelotons had merged, the bunch was getting closer, with Wanty doing the work.


Maes attacked again and was joined by Wallays but that move didn’t work. However, Maes was relentless and when he kicked again, he got an advantage.


Wallays took off in pursuit while the rest of the group was caught. Lotto Soudal now took control of the peloton and as they passed the flamme rouge, they had brought it all back together.


Maxime Vantomme took a short turn for Roubaix before Lotto Soudal got back in action. They delivered Boeckmans perfectly on the front but Bouhanni was in a great position on the wheel of the Belgian. When he launched his sprint, he turned out to be in a class of his own, easily passing Boeckmans who finished second, with Edward Theuns completing the podium. The sprint was marred by a big crash that brought down the likes of Nick van der Lijke and Kevin Pauwels.


With the Halle-Ingooigem over, it is time to focus on the National Championships in the weekend. The next major UCI race in Belgium is the Tour de Wallonie in the end of July.


A lumpy course

The 2015 Halle-Ingooigem was held on the classic course hat brought the riders over 198km between the two cities that make up the name of the race. The course could be divided into two parts as the riders will first covered 104.3km, tackling the famous climbs of La Houppe, Kanarieberg, Kruisberg, Hotondberg and Knoktenerg along the way, before they ended the day by doing five laps of an 18.9km finishing circuit that includes the Tiegemberg. However, the final 11.2km were flat which explains why the race has often been decided in a bunch sprint.


It was a relatively pleasant day in Belgium when the riders gathered for the start and there was little wind that could potentially challenge the riders. They got the race off to a fast start with a few attacks but the break was established relatively early.


The break is formed

Xandro Meurisse (An Post) and Sam Lennertz (Vastgoedservice) laid the foundations and quickly got an advantage of 20 seconds after 6km of racing. David Boucher (FDJ), Paulius Siskevicius (An Post) and Dieter Vanthourenhout (Sunweb) took off in pursuit and they quickly bridged. Loic Pestiaux (Wallonie) also tried to join the action but he never made it.


After 16km, the five leaders already had an advantage of 3.07 and they continued to build the gap which was 5.08 just 10km later. The gap went out to 7.30 at the 35km mark and so it was easy for favourite Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to rejoin the peloton after a puncture.


The chase gets organized

Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) also suffered mechanicals but they easily rejoined the peloton which was 9.09 after 55km of racing. Thijs van Amerongen (Telenet) was involved in a small crash but rejoined the peloton which had now slightly upped the pace.


While Gert Steegmans (Trek) worked his way back from a puncture, the gap slowly came down to less 8 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Cofidis and Etixx-QuickStep had taken responsibility to bring the escapees back. When they entered the final 100km, the gap was just 6.29.


The gap comes down

At this point, Toon Aerts (Telenet) was hit by the Wanty car but he managed to rejoin the peloton which continued its steady comeback. With Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) doing most of the work, the gap has now come down to 5.45 and with 75km to go it was only 4.20.


Lotto Soudal had now also come to the fore and for a while Keisse, Dennis Vanendert (Lotto Soudal), Michael van Staeyen (Cofidis) and another Cofidis rider set the pace. As they started the third lap of the circuit, Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) also started to work and the gap was now coming down quickly as it was only 2.45.


Etixx-QuickStep accelerate

On the Hellestraat climb, Boucher was dropped from the break but he managed to rejoin the group in the subsequent flat section. However, Vanthourenhout was also unable to contribute to the pace-setting and so the gap was down to just 1.30 at the start of the penultimate lap.


Keisse, Vanendert, Verona and van Staeyen set the pace until they got to the Hellestraat for the penultimate time. Here Maes made a big surge to make the race hard while Vanthourenhout and Boucher were both dropped from the break.


The big names come to the fore

Those two riders were quickly brought back as Etixx-QuickStep continued to ride hard with Stybar, Terpstra, Maes, Vandenbergh and Gianni Meersman. With 35km to go, it was all back together and the pace had split the peloton into two big groups.


Terpstra and Boeckmans briefly got a gap before the big names of the peloton started to trade pulls on the front. Stybar attacked as they went up the Tiegemberg and was joined by Boeckmans, Adrien Petit and a Roompot rider but Vanmarcke brought it back together.


Etixx-QuickStep in control

Devolder, Terpstra, Boeckmans, Vanmarcke, Stybar and Keukeleire were some of the riders who briefly made it into a small group but Cofidis quickly brought them back. Instead, the many stars again traded pulls in front of the 40-rider group that had an advantage of 30 seconds.


Belgium and Trek also started to work hard before the situation calmed down a bit. Lotto Soudal, Trek and QuickStep did most of the work to keep the gap at 30 seconds until they started the final lap where the exciting finale unfolded.



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