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Proving that he has huge potential for the road, cyclo-cross world champion Van Aert took a surprise win the Baloise Belgium Tour prologue, beating Martin by 2 seconds; Hollenstein was third

Photo: UCI/Graham Watson








25.05.2016 @ 18:33 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Cyclo-cross world champion Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) proved that he can become a great road rider too by taking a surprise win in the Baloise Belgium Tour prologue. The Belgian covered the technical 6km course in Beveren in 6.52 which was enough to beat pre-race favourite Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) by 2 seconds to become the first leader of the race. Reto Hollenstein (IAM) led the stage for most of the day but had to settle for third.


Zdenek Stybar and Lars Boom are the greatest examples of cyclo-cross riders that have gone from the field to the road and have had great success on the tarmac. As soon as he emerged as a dominant force, world champion Wout Van Aert was naturally asked whether he would give road racing a try later in his career.


Van Aert has sent mixed signals about his future plans but for now he is fully focused on cyclo-cross. However, he is still riding on the road in the summer and in races like the Belgium Tour and Ster ZLM Toer, he has shown his potential. Last year he was riding well in his national tour until he crashed hard in the queen stage on the final stage.


This year Van Aert has been training on Mallorca to lay the foundations for the cross season and will again use the Belgium Tour, Ster ZLM Toer and Halle-Ingooigem to prepare for the Belgian Championships which is his big goal on the road. He was tipped as an outsider for his national tour again but few would have expected him to start the race in the way he did today. Van Aert used his great technical skills and his explosiveness to beat no less of a figure than three-time champion Tony Martin in the flat 6km prologue in Beveren and so became the first leader of the race.


Van Aert was a late starter and when he passed the intermediate check in a time that was clearly the best, it was evident that he was on a great day. He maintained his speed all the way to the finish and when he crossed the line, he had beaten long-time leader Ret Hollenstein by no less than four seconds.


However, he still faced a nervous wait as the final 17 starters were mostly made up of specialists. He survived the first challenge when Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) could only manage 7th and then it was all about what Martin could do.


At the time check, Martin was 0.16 second faster than Van Aert and it looked like there would be no glory for the Belgian. However, the German engine couldn’t maintain his speed and when the clock stopped in 6.54, he had to settle for second, having been beaten by two seconds. Hollenstein finished third.


The result sets Van Aert up for a solid GC campaign as it will be hard for Martin to get rid of the Belgian in Saturday’s queen stage. However, there are several threat looming within a reasonable distance. Chavael was 10th, Dries Devenyns (IAM) was 12th, Sergei Chernetskii was 21st, Xandro Meurisse 31st and Tom-Jelte Slagter was 34th and they are all within 20 seconds of the leader.


The big loser was last year’s runner-up Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) as he lost 26 seconds in 70th place. Lieuwe Westra (Astana) was also disappointed with 31st as he was expected to gain time on most of his rivals today. Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) also had a poor ride as he lost 23 seconds in 51st. Dutch strongmen Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) and Lars Boom (Astana) both finished in the top 10 but they are both expected to suffer in Saturday’s queen stage that takes place in the Ardennes.


Van Aert now has a 2-second lead over Martin and he has a solid chance to defend his jersey in tomorrow’s first stage which will bring the riders over 177.5km from Buggenhout to the well-known finish in Knokke-Heitst. There won’t be a single categorized climb on the menu on what will be a day in flat terrain. The stage ends with two laps of a 25km finishing circuit that has the traditional uphill finishing straight along the seafront where the sprinters are expected to battle it out.


A flat prologue

The 86th edition of the Baloise Belgium Tour kicked off with a prologue. It was held in the city of Beveren on a 6km course and wascompletely flat with a total of 8 turns that made it a pretty technical affair.


It was a sunny day in Belgium when Aidis Kruopis (Veranda’s) rolled down the ramp as the first rider. He stopped the clock in 7.34 to set an early mark which allowed him to lead the race for a few minutes.


Hollenstein takes the lead

Timothy Stevens (Crelan) was the sixth rider on the course and he took the lead by going nine seconds faster than Kruopis. Rudiger Selig (Bora) was unable to beat that mark as he was two seconds slower in second place.


Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie) slotted into third with 7.30 but it was Hollenstein that everybody was waiting for. The Swiss outsider had opted for an early started and lowered mark by a massive 39 seconds when he stopped the clock in 6.56.


Bauer gets close

Jack Bauer (Cannondale) was the first to get close as he posted a time of 7.05 before Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) slooted into third with 7.17. Stig Broeckx (Lotto Soudal) was even better with 7.14, pushing Keisse down to fourth,


Brecht Dhaene (Veranda’s) had a fine rider to make it into the top 10 just like Gianni Marchand (Cibel). Jens Adams continued the good day for Crelan as he slotted into fourth with 7.14.


Devenyns make it a 1-2 for IAM

Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) cracked the top 5 with 7.16 and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora) was also in the top 10 with 7.19. However, it was another IAM rider that got all the attention as Devenyns made it two riders from the team in the top 10 when he posted a time of 7.03.


Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) narrowly missed out on the top 3 as he was just fractions of a second slower than Bauer before Benoot had a disappointing ride with 7.18. Stef van Zummeren (Veranda’s) did better with 7.16 which was enough of a top 10.


Mullen fades

Oliver Naesen made it three IAM riders in the top 5 when he slotted into fifth with 7.09 while Simon Spilak (Katusha) had to settle for sixth with 7.13. He was narrowly beaten by Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) who was less than a second faster.


Loic Chetout (Cofidis) narrowly missed out on the top 10 before Vicente Reynes made it four IAM riders in the top 10 as he posed the 7th best time. However, it was Ryan Mullen (Cannondale) that everybody was eagerly awaiting as the Irishman had been fastest at the time check. However, he faded dramatically in the end and had to settle for sixth with 7.11.


Boucher gets close

Boy Van Poppel (Trek) did well to move into seventh with 7.12 before David Boucher signaled what was to come from Crelan. The Belgian stopped the clock in 7.02 which was enough to move into second.


Gatis Smukulis (Astana) was fourth at the time check but as he arrived at the finish, he could only manage 14th. Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) did much better as he made it into 7th with 7.10.


Near-miss for Lampaert

Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QucikStep) gave Hollenstein the first scare. Having passed the time check, five seconds faster than the Swiss, the Belgian was on track for first place but in the end he missed out by less than a second as he stopped the clock in 657. Jan Ghyselinck (Veranda’s) also came up short as he has to settle for 8th.


Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) was very close to making it into the top 10 with 7.12 but it was another sprinter who attracted the attention. Jonas Van Genechten had been faster than his teammate Hollenstein at the time check but in the end he had to settle for seventh with 7.06.


Disappointment for Westra

There was disappointment for Westra who could only manage 7.11 and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale) also missed out on the top 10 with 7.12. Instead, Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal) became the next rider to make it into the 10 best with 7.09, good enough for 10th,,


Meurisse was flying at the time check but had to settle for 13th with 7.11 before Berden De Vries (Roompot) continued his TT progress by taking sixth with 7.05. Daniel McLay (Fortuneo) confirmed his great form as he slotted into ninth with 7.08.


Terpstra narrowly misses out

Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) was off the pace in 29th before Aleksejs Saramotins continued the IAM dominance by taking ninth with 7.06. However, it was Boom was expected to the big threat for Hollenstein as he had been faster at the time check but in the end 6.59 was only good enough for third.


Nils Politt (Katusha) confirmed his huge potential by taking 5th with 7.02 but Hollenstein had his eyes on Terpstra. The Dutchman had posted the fastest time check and it became a nail-biting arrival as he missed out on the lead by just 0.02 second!


Van Aert takes the lead

Terpstra had barely caught his breath before it became known that Van Aert had been even faster at the time check. He was 2 seconds better than the classics star and unlike the Dutchman, he maintained his speed, lowering the mark by 4 seconds.


Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) could only manage 9th with 7.04 while Gert Joeaar (Cofidis) missed out on the top 10 despite being third at the time check. Chavanel was expected to be a big threat but 7.03 was only good enough for 7th.


Martin comes up short

Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport) was just 0.01 second faster than Chavanel but it was Martin Elmiger (IAM) who gave Van Aert a scare. In his comeback race after injury, the Swiss stopped the clock in 6.58 to slot into fifth.


Chernetskii missed out on the top 10 with 7.08 and when Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale) and Edward Theuns (Trek) both missed out on the top 10, it was evident that Martin was the only threat for Van Aert. Despite a better intermediate time, the German had to settle for second and as Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal) could only manage 60th, Van Aert could step onto the podium as the stage winner.



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