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Launching a long sprint, Claeys was the fastest in the 33-rider group that decided the hilly stage 3 of the Tour de Wallonie; Meersman was second and took the overall lead on a countback

Photo: Kristof Ramon

CIRCUS-WANTY GOBERT

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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JONATHAN HIVERT

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TOUR DE WALLONIE 

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25.07.2016 @ 17:38 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) confirmed the huge potential he showed at this year’s Tour of Flanders by taking the biggest win of his career on the hilly third stage of the Tour de Wallonie. Having made it into a 33-rider group that sprinted for the win, he went from afar and held off the fast-finishing Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) who took the overall lead on a countback, and Jonathan Hivert (Fortuneo-Vital Concept).

 

Last year Dimitri Claeys was one of the evelations on the contentinental scene, taking a number of strong results for Veranda’s Willes, including a stage win at the Tour of Croatia, overall victory at the Tour de Normandie and second place at the GP Impanis. That made him a hot topic on the transfer market and it was the Wanty team that won the battle for his signature.

 

This year Claeys confirmed his potential when he finished 9th in the Tour of Flanders, showing that he has the skills to become a great classics rider. Today he showed that he also has a fast finish and climbs well when he won the hilly third stage of the Tour de Wallonie.

 

While his teammate Thomas Degand animated the finale, Claeys dug deep to make the selection when a late climb whittled the peloton down to 33 riders. In the sprint he showed his speed by beating sprinters like Gianni Meersman and Arnaud Demare to take the biggest win of his career.

 

After two days for the sprinters, the riders headed into hillier terrain for stage 3. Most of the 200.3km between Braine l’Alleud and Vielsalm were relatively flat as there were only a category 2 and a category 3 climb on the menu during the long trek from the start to the finish. However, the stage had a nasty sting in its tail as it ended with two laps on a 16.7km circuit that had a category 2 climb (4.5km, 5.6%) 6.6km from the finish.

 

After yesterday's big crash, five riders were absent at the start of the stage. Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Arnaud Voss (Vera Classic AGO), Odd Christian Eiking, Ignatas Konovalovas (FDJ) and Sebastien Delfosse (Wallonie-Bruxelles) all hit the deck in the finale and were unable to continue the race. The other riders gathered under a sunny sky and started the stage with some very aggressive racing.

 

After six kilometers, Evgeny Shalunov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Jerome Marinard (Armee), Kenny Dehaes (Wanty - Gobert Group) and Jens Adams (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) got clear, and they maintained a lead of about 15 seconds for some times. Six kilometers later, they were caught.

 

Wallonie controlled the many attacks before Perrig Qeuemenur (Direct Energie) attacked. He was joined by Axel Domont (AG2R-La Mondiale), Tony Hurel (Direct Energie) and Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), but the quartet didn’t manage to stay out front.

 

After a sextet briefly escaped, it was back together at the first intermediate sprint after 30km of racing where Boris Vallee (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) again secured bonus seconds by beating Etixx-Quick Step duo Gianni Meersman and Tom Boonen. After the sprint, there was a chance for a break to get clear but when 20 riders formed a strong group, the aggressive riding continued. Things came back together after a first hour which was done at 50km/h.

 

Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie) tried a solo attack, while one of the riders from yesterday's crash, Justin Jules (Veranlassic), was dropped. However, Etixx-Quick Step brough the Wallonie sprinter back. Instead, Vladimir Isaychev (Team Katusha), Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Benoit Sinner (Arnee) managed to ride away, and while they fought hard to keep a lead of 15 seconds, six riders, including Boonen, tried to bridge across up. Of course it was too dangerous so the chasers were caught.

 

Finally it was time for a natural break in the field, and while it started to rain and the field took a breather, the gap started to grow. Jules, who had been dropped earlier, tried to bridge across on his own but failed. A little later, Dron won the first KOM sprint ahead Sinner and Isaychev and the field crossed the line 3.05 behind the front group.

 

It did not rain anymore when Isaychev beat Dron and Sinner in the second intermediate sprint after 91.2 kilometers, where Etixx-Quick Step took control in the peloton. They had let the gapgrow to 3.45 but then kept it stable for a while

 

Dron also won the second KOM sprint ahead Isaychev and Dron before the field reached the summit 3.28 behind the leaders. The race had calmed down after the hectic start, and during the third hour only 37km were covered. It also meant that there is no stress was when Jonas Vangenechten (IAM) punctured shortly before the final sprint, which was won by Isaychev ahead of Dron and Sinner.

 

With 45km to go, the gap had dropped to 2.30 and Etixx-QuickStep led the way with Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Stijn Vandenbergh. They didn’t react when Jules attacked again and after Mickael Delage (FDJ) had joined him, the pair built an advantage of 20 seconds.

 

At the first passage of the finish line, the front trio were 1.40 ahead of the two chasers while the peloton started the first lap with a deficit of 2.10. The fight for position had really started and it was now the Topsport Vlaanderen that had taken control.

 

Topsport Vlaanderen upped the pace significantly and reduced the gap to less than 2 minutes as they entered the final 30km. They brought the two chasers back before Van Keirsbulck and Vandenbergh led the peloton onto the climb.

 

Cofidis took a short turn before Thomas Deruette (Wallonie) launched the first attack on the climb. Etixx-QuickStep didn’t react and just let David De La Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) set a solid pace. Nonetheless, lots of riders were dropped.

 

The front group split up when Sinner was dropped and moments later Dron also had to let Isaychev go. Deruette soon passed the fading Sinner and approached Isaychev who was only 30 seconds ahead halfway up the climb.

 

Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) joined Deruette before they passed Dron. Just before the top, Wout Van Aert (Crelan), Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal), Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) and Oliver Zaugg (IAM) also made the junction and the strong chase group caught Isaychev just after the Russian had crested the summit.

 

The Etixx-QuickStep trio of Yves Lampaert, Tom Boonen and Gianni Meersman bridged the gap on the descent and moments later Matteo Trentin also made junction. Lampaert went straight to the front to try to maintain the gap but it wasn’t easy as Lotto Soudal were now giving chase. They brought back Huub Duijn (Roompot) and a Fortuneo rider who had tried to bridge the gap.

 

Lampaert got a bit of help from Trentin but it was impossible to keep the peloton at bay as Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal) brought it all back together with 15km to go. That didn’t stop Lampaert who kept riding hard on the front.

 

With 13km to go, Lampaert swung off and then Isaychev took over for Katusha. Roompot then took a turn but Delage was the first rider to hit the climb.

 

Delage and Kochetkov got a small gap before Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) joined the pair. While Boonen led the chase, the Katusha pair dropped Delage and quickly got a solid advantage.

 

Xandro Meurisse (Crelan), Dries Devenyns (IAM) and aTopsport Vlaanderen rider bridged across to the two Katusha riders and while the quintet tried to maintain a 10-second advantage, Boonen exploded.  Egor Silin (Katusha), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal), Floris De Tier (Topsport), a Fortuneo-Vital Concept rider and Jerome Baugnier Wanty) also made it but Etixx-QuickStep caught the group with 8km to go, with David De La Cruz taking some huge turns.

 

Devenyns, Vanendert, De Tier and Silin tried again but the unstoppable De La Cruz neutralized the move and then set such a fast pace that the 30-rider peloton split in two, leaving just 15 riders in the first group. However, he couldn’t respond when Devenyns and Thomas Degand (Wanty) attacked over the top and the pair started the descent with an advantage of 5 seconds.

 

Topsport led the chase before a regrouping took place and then De La Cruz hit the front. The Spaniard dug deep but he didn’t get any help. Hence, the gap went out to 10 seconds and it looked like the attackers had a chance.

 

Topsport launched a strong attack and then started to ride hard on the front. Silin also took a huge turn and as they passed the flamme rouge, it was back together.

 

Kochetkov tried to do the lead-out for Kuznetsov  but it was too early and they were passed by the Lotto Soudal trio of Jelle Wallays, Vanendert and Pim Ligthart. The Dutchman was given the lead-out but he was surprised by Claeys who did a long sprint. The Belgian surged towards the line and even though both Gianni Meersman and Jonathan Hivert finished fast, he held them off to take the win.

 

Meersman has picked up a total of four bonus seconds in intermediate sprints and so is equal on time with Claeys. The Etixx-QuickStep rider takes the overall lead on a countback while Kuznetsov is third at 3 seconds.

 

Meersman faces an even sterner test tomorrow. The 180m between Aubel and Herstal are hillier than the previous stage as there are four category 2 climbs and one category 1 climb in the first 65km. Then the road levels out until the riders hit the finishing circuit with 50.3km to go. They will almost do a full lap of the 18.9km circuit and then finally do two laps. The circuit includes the category 1 Cote de Sarolay (1km, 7.5%) just 10.9km from the line and so the riders will tackle the ascent a total of three times.

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