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After a very fast and aggressive race, Merlier took the biggest win of his road career as he came out on top in a reduced bunch sprint at the GP Stad Zottegem; Dupont and Sieberg completed the podium











23.08.2016 @ 18:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tim Merlier (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) showed that he more than just a very talented cyclo-cross rider when he emerged as the strongest in the reduced bunch sprint at the GP Stad Zottegem. The Belgian was the fastest in a 40-rider group that sprinted for the win after a very fast and aggressive race as he held Timothy Dupont (Veranda’s Willems) and Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal) off in the final dash to the line.


In recent years, Tim Merlier has emerged as one of the biggest Belgian cyclo-cross talents and he has established himself as a key lieutenant for world champion Wout van Aert. However, the Belgian is also active on the road where he has shown himself as a very capable sprinter at the end of hard, selective races.


Unsurprisingly, Merlier achieved his best result at last year’s Scaal Sels where his cyclo-cross skills helped him take third on the gravel roads in the Belgian classic. He was also in the top 5 in two sprints at the Ster ZLM Toer but in 2016 he has taken another step.  This year Merlier was fifth in the reduced bunch sprint at the Ronde van Limburg and he sprinted to ninth as the third fastest in the bunch at Halle-Ingooigem. Today he showed that he is fully ready for the cyclo-cross season when he won the reduced bunch kick in a very fast and selective edition of the old semi-classic GP Stad Zottegem.


The 81st edition of GP Stad Zottegem was a circuit race. The race started and finished in Zottegem and was held on three different circuits for an overall distance of 189.7km. The key climb was the Grotenbergestraat (875m, 4%, max. 8%) which was tackled a total of 7 times. First the riders did one lap of a 64.8km circuit which included the climb right after the start in kilometre 1. The riders also tackled Hostellerie at the 34km mark and the key climb again after 38km of racing. The famous Lange Munte cobbles came at the 14km mark. The final part of the race consisted of three laps of a 22.6km circuit and two laps of a longer 28.8km circuit. The Grotenbergstraat featured on both circuits and was passed for the final time with 22km to go. However, the key challenge was the famous Paddestraat pave which featured close to the end of the final circuit. The riders passed the cobbles for the final time with 4km to go before they headed along flat roads to the finish in Zottegem.


The riders had fantastic summer conditions when they gathered under a sunny sky. Unsurprisingly, it was a very aggressive start and for a long time no one could get a significant gap. Björn Thurau (Wanty) was the first rider to open a bigger advantage after 31km of racing and he kept attacking several times. Then a six-rider breakaway got clear but things were back together at the bottom of the Hostelleie climb


Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen) launched a solo move but things were back together as they approached the finish line for the first time. Jean-Marc Bideau (Fortunéo - Vital Concept), Elias van Breussegem (Verandas Willems) Matthew Zenovich (Avanti IsoWhey Sport) and Nuno Bico (Klein Constantia) then escaped but they were back in the fold after a first hour during which 47.2km were covered.


Steven Tronet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Kai Reus (Roompot), Jeremy Lecroq (CC Nogent-sur-Oise) and Michael O’Loughlin (Wiggins) briefly formed a quartet but at the end of the big circuit, things were back together. Moments later, a very dangerous 16-rider group was formed when Andreas Schillinger (Bora Argon 18), Steven Tronet (Fortunéo - Vital Concept), Boris Vallee (Fortunéo - Vital Concept), Roman Kustadinchev (Gazprom-RusVelo), Dion Smith (One Pro Cycling), Dylan Page (Team Roth) Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Otto Vergaerde (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Timothy Dupont (Verandas Willems), Marco Marcato (Wanty - Gobert Group), Lawrence Naesen (Team Cibel), Christopher Latham (Team Wiggins), Elias van Breussegem (Verandas Willems), Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonia - Brussels) Mathew Cronshaw and Thomas Stewart (Madison Genesis) escaped. That put Lotto Soudal on the defensive and they had to chase hard to close a 27-second gap. Wesley Kreder (Roompot) and Nicolas Vereecken (An Post) tried to bridge across ut it was all in vain as everything was back together at the 80km mark.


The next break was formed when Eugert Zhupa (Wilier-Southeast), Elias van Breussegem (Verandas Willems), Björn Thurau (Wanty - Gobert Group), Greg Henderson (Lotto-Soudal), Sebastian Lander (One Pro Cycling) and Paul Voss (Bora Argon 18) escaped but their advantage was never more than 13 seconds. Hence, things were back together at the next passage of the line and after a second hour during which 47km were covered.


The fast past split the peloton and suddenly 27 riders had an advantage of 50 seconds. Greg Henderson (Lotto-Soudal), Frederik Frison (Lotto-Soudal), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora Argon 18), Boris Vallee (Fortunéo - Vital Concept), Igor Boev (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Sebastian Lander (One Pro Cycling), Dion Smith (One Pro Cycling), Nicola Toffali (Team Roth), Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Marco Marcato (Wanty - Gobert Group), Mark McNally (Wanty - Gobert Group), Björn Thurau (Wanty - Gobert Group), Cristian Raileanu (Wilier), Eugert Zhupa (Wilier-Southeast), Neil Van Der Ploeg (Avanti Cycling Team), Alexander Krieger (Leopard Development Team), Joeri Stallaert (Team Cibel), Vegard Breen (Fortunéo - Vital Concept) Tim Merlier (Crelan-Vastgoedservice), Kobus Hereijgers (Cycling Team Join-o-de Rijke), Jeremy Lecroq (Cc Nogent-sur-oise), Thomas Stewart (Madison Genesis), Cees Bol (Rabobank Development Team), Elias Van Breussegem (Verandas Willems), Ludwig De Winter (Wallonie - Brussels), Jimmy Duquennoy (Wallonie - Brussels) Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie - Brussels) had made the selection and they had increased their advantage to 1.02 at the end of the second lap of the middle circuit.


There was no cooperarion in the front group and so Thurau and Stewart attacked. However, the group soon came back together but the peloton was now breathing down their neck, sitting just 15 seconds behind. That prompted Planckaert to make a failed attempt before Henderson, Stewart, Duquennoy and Zhupa escaped. The rest of the group was brought back.


At the start of the first lap of the final circuit, 14 riders had made the junction and 18 riders formed the front group but it all came back together with 53km to go. That set the scene for new attacks and this time Paul Voss (Bora Argon 18), Nicolas Baldo (Team Roth), Mathew Zenoich (Avanti Cycling Team) and Taco Van Der Hoorn (Cycling Team Join-o-de Rijke) managed to get a five-second advantage. Kustadinchev, Raileanu and Dupont joined them but it all came back together after the first passage of the Paddestraat.


At the start of the final lap, the reduced peloton was back together but there were constant attacks. Ludwig De Winter managed to get a 12-second advantage but he was brought back with 20km to go. Robert De Greef (De Rijke) was the next to try and then Frederik Backaert (Wanty - Gobert Group), Roman Kustadinchev (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Timothy Dupont (Verandas Willems), Elie Gesbert (Fortunéo - Vital Concept), Pieter Vanspeybroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and Eugert Zhupa (Wilier-southeast) gave it a shot. However, they were also brought back.


Zhupa was relentless and attacked again, building a 7-second advantage with 10km to go. However, the group was back together as they hit the Paddestraat where the group exploded to pices.


Vanspeybrouck turned out to be the strongest on the cobbles and he still had a 10-second advantage with 3km to go. However, he was brought back less than 2000m from the line and it all came down to a sprint from a 40-rider group. Here Merlier turned out to be the fastest as he held off Timothy Dupont and Marcel Sieberg to take the biggest win of his road career.


With the GP Stad Zottegem done and dusted, the series of semi-classics in Belgium continues at tomorrow’s hilly Druivenkoers Overijse.



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