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After Van Avermaet was caught by a reduced peloton less than 500m from the finish, Debusschere surged ahead to beat Coquard in a photo finish at Dwars door Vlaanderen; Theuns completed the podium

Photo: ANSA / DAL ZENNARO - PERI

BRYAN COQUARD

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DWARS DOOR VLAANDEREN

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EDWARD THEUNS

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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23.03.2016 @ 17:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) confirmed that he is a man to watch in the cobbles in the future when he opened his account on the rough surface by winning the opening race of the holy period of Belgian cycling, Dwars door Vlaanderen. The Belgian came out on top in a reduced bunch sprint by holding off Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) in a photo finish after a dramatic final chase had neutralized a big attack from Greg Van Avermaet less than 500m from the line. Edward Theuns (Trek) finished third to make it to the podium for the second year in a row.

 

Jens Debusschere may be known as a sprinter but he has done nothing to hide that he aims to become a contender in the cobbled classics. He has gradually improved in the tough races over the rough surface but until now all his wins have come in minor races or in big bunch sprints.

 

However, Debusschere has proved that he is a rider made from the same mold as Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb. Able to overcome the short, steep hellingen, he packs a fast sprint and is very hard to beat at the end of a hard race. He proved so when he won the bunch sprint for sixth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad where he was left wondering what might have been.

 

Today he again got the chance to sprint from a reduced at the end of a cobbled race and this time there were no riders up the road. Confirming his skills as a classics sprinter, he beat a star-studded list of fast riders that included Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep), Bryan Coquard, Giacomo Nizzolo and Edward Theuns (Trek) to win the Dwars door Vlaanderen semi-classic.

 

The race came into life on the Taaienberg with 51km to go. At this point, a five-rider break with Jesper Asselman (Roompot), Phil Bauhaus (Bora-Argon 18), Igor Boev (Gazprom), Kevin van Melsen (Wanty) and Alex Kirsch (Stölting) was still ahead but were losing ground quickly as Etixx-QuickStep were working hard on the front.

 

Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff) set the tempo on the lower slopes of the climb but it was Edward Theuns (Trek) who launced a vicious attack. Nikolas Maes, Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep), Gatto, Jens Debusscheree and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) joined the move before Senechal bridged the gap with a bigger group in tow. They crested the summit 50 seconds behind the leaders  but there was no great cooperation and so more riders bridged across. At this point, they were just 1.25 behind the leaders while the chasers were stuck at 50 seconds.

 

Jasper Stuyven (Trek) upped the pace before Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) got a gap. He was joined by Scott Thwaites (Bora), Dries Devenyns (IAM), Loic Vliegen (BMC), Jens Keuekeire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Nikolas Maes, Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), and Amaury Capiot (Topsport) to form an 8-rider group. A small chase group was formed and Gatto, Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL) and Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie) bridged across from that group to make it 11 riders 1.05 behind the leaders with 45km to go.

 

The Durbridge group was caught by the 11 chasers just one kilometre further up the road while a bigger peloton had got organized, with Martin leading the chase for Etixx-QucikStep. He easily brought a small group with Rick Zabel and Stijn Devolder back.

 

Trek took over the pace-setting in the peloton with Markel Irizar as they approached the Oude Kwaremont 1.10 behind the leaders and 20 seconds behind the big chase group. As soon as they hit the climb, Asselman and Bauhaus were dropped from the front group as van Melsen did a lot of damage. Finally, Kirsch also had to surrender, leaving the Belgian as the lone leader.

 

In the chase group, Devenyns hit the front and made the group split to pieces as only Maes could match his pace. Gatto, Wallays, and Keuekeleire bridged the gap and Durbridge also made the junction. Finally, Thwaites, Duchesne, Vliegen and another two riders also joined the move

 

 Nizzolo, Capiot and Teunissen were chasing hard and they made it across just at the bottom of the Paterberg where they had picked up Bauhaus and Asselman. It was Gatto doing the damage on the steep ascent, taking off in solo move.

 

At the top, Devenyns and Maes joined the Italian to form a chase trio while the rest of the group had splintered to pieces. In the peloton, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Senechal and a Topsport rider had ridden away. Frederik Backaert (Wanty) joined the group a little later.

 

Durbridge joined Gatto, Devenyns and Maes who picked up Kirsch to form a quintet with 28km to go. At this point, they were still 25 seconds behind van Melsen. Nizzolo, Keukeleire, Vliegen, Bauhaus, Thwaites, Teunissen and Duchesne made it back with 25km to go and so 12 riders had gathered.

 

Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) dragged a small group up to the Van Avermaet-Benoot group as there were now riders all over the road. Andrey Amador (Movistar), Pim Ligthart, Jens Debusschere, Filippo Pozzato Gaviria and Theuns were among the riders who got back in contention and they slowly picked up riders from the earlier attacks.

 

On the Varent cobbles, Keukeleire opened a small gap to his teammate Durbridge who surge clear. Thwiates was quick to react and Teunissen and Gatto also made the junction. Vliegen did a massive effort to also join he move but it was a waste of energy as the group was back together with 22km to go.

 

As they hit the Vossenhol group with 20km to go, Van Melsen was still hanfing on for dear life but the Van Avermaet group was approaching quickly. They were just 30 seconds behind as Ligthart was now chasing hard while the chasers were at 15 seconds.

 

Devenyns made an unsuccessful attack but instead he of getting clear he could look back to see the Van Avermaet group making the junction. Benoot made an immediate attack and was joined by Nizzolo, Thwaites, Maes, Durbridge and Vliegen to form a chase group that caught Van Melsen with 17km to go.

 

A rather big 30-riderpeloton had gathered as they hit the Holstraat with 16km to go and it was Topsport Vlaanderen leading the chase, just 25 seconds behind before they sent Bert Van Lerberghe off in an attack. However, he was quickly passed as Devenyns made an unsuccessful attack.

 

The peloton again got organized as Topsport Vlaanderen took charge. They slowly reduced the gap as there was lack of cooperation in the front group with Durbridge and Vliegen both trying to get clear in unsuccessful moves.

 

When the gap was down to 10 seconds, Benoot tried to get clear but he had no luck. He tried two final desperate moves but with 10km to go, Direcct Energie brought it back together after Bryan Coquard had taken a huge turn.

 

As the pace went down, Thwaites tried to attack before Stefan Küng tried for BMC. Stuyven was the next to try but no one was strong enough to get clear.

 

Behind the group, a big peloton was getting organized ad LottoNL-Jumbo were chasing hard. It suddenly looked like it was coming back together for a big bunch sprint.

 

Just before the final climb of Nokereberg, Van Avermaet made a strong attack. Maes tried to join him but cracked halfway up the climb. Senechal started to chase hard but Van Avermaet was slowly increasing jis advantage.

 

Stuyven, Thwaites, a Topsport rider and one from Cofidis took off in pursuit but hey were brought back when Terpstra started to chase hard, working to make it a sprint for Gaviria. Stuyven tried a final desperate move but failed to keep Terpstra at bay.

 

With 5km to go, the gap was 12 seconds and there was no help for Terpstra. He stayed on the front for another kilometre before Lotto Soudal finally lent him a hand. That made a difference and Van Avermaet was only 8 seconds ahead with 2.5km to go.

 

Van Avermaet passed the flame rouge with a 4-second advantage and it was now Terpstra taking a massive turn on the front with Gaviria on his wheel. With 500m to go, Stuyven and Theuns took over and as the former did the lead-out, the BMC captain was caught.

 

Theuns launched his sprint and looked like he was going to take the win. However, Coquard surged ahead down the middle of the road and was in pole position until metres from the line. Debusschere came very fast in the end and as Coquard prepared himself to celebrate by raising his arms, the Belgian make a race-winning bike throw to claim the first classics victory of his career.

 

With Dwars door Vlaanderen done and dusted, the attention turns to the next big race in the holy period of Belgian cycling. On Friday, all the classics stars will have arrived for the WorldTour race E3 Harelbeke.

 

A classic course

The 71st edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen was held in a 199.7km course that brought the riders from Roeselare to Waregem. After a flat start, the riders tackled the first climb of Nieuwe Kwaremont at the 92km mark and then the remaining 11 hellingen came in quick succession. The first key moment was expected to be the Taaienberg at the 148km while the final selection was expected to be made on Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. The top of the latter came with 30km to go and from there, the riders tackled another three easier climbs before they got to the flat finish. The final challenge was the Nokereberg with 7km to go.

 

Light rain was falling when the riders gathered for the start. Yves Lampert (Etixx-QuickStep) who is injured and Gerald Ciolek (Stölting) who is ill were absent as they held one minute of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks. After having completed the neutral zone, they stopped again to show their respect.

 

Six riders get clear

When racing finally started, it got off to the usual fast start and the rain started to come down much heavier. Seven riders got clear and stayed ahead for a long time but after 20 minutes of racing, it was all back together.

 

Another group escaped immediately as Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r), Jesper Asselman (Roompot), Phil Bauhaus (Bora-Argon 18), Igor Boev (Gazprom), Kevin van Melsen (Wanty) and Alex Kirsch (Stölting) took off. They worked hard to get an advantage and were still only a handful of seconds ahead at the 22km mark but suddenly the peloton decided to take their usual breather and the gap started to grow.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE take control

The escapees worked well together to build a four-minute advantage at the end of the first hour during which the peloton covered 44.5km. It was still raining heavily but the break pressed on to increase the gap to seven minutes.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase with a single rider, keeping the gap at around seven minutes. It even went out to 8 minutes as they headed through the feed zone.

 

Lotto Soudal attack

After the lunch, Lotto Soudal made a big attack in the crosswind and made the peloton split into two groups. The chaos caused a crash that involved Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff). Meanwhile, the 50-rider first group pushed their advantage over the second bunch out to 300m as they approached the first climb, Nieuwe Kwaremont.

 

As they hit the climb, the acceleration had reduced the gap to six minutes and here Lotto Soudal slowed down, allowing a regrouping to take place. Things calmed down and Sven Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) hit the front, keeping the gap at around 5.45 as they entered the final 100km.

 

The first attacks

As they approached the Kattenberg, the fight for position intensified and Keisse and Tuft disappeared from the front. Instead, all the big teams lined out their troops. As a consequence, the gap had dropped to 5.25 with 90km to go and it was down to 4.05 when they hit the climb.

 

As they approached the top, Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) attacked. Kennethn Vanbilsen (Cofidis) and (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) joined the move and Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) and (LottoNL-Jumbo) also bridged the gap but as the attacking continued after the climb, the peloton was strung out and they never got much of an advantage. While lots of riders got dropped and Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-QuickStep) had a puncture, Tinkoff reeled the break in with 83km to go. At this point, the gap was only 3.25.

 

Teunissen takes off

The stress continued until they turned onto a narrow road where Keisse took charge for Etixx-QuickStep. He battled with Stölting for the front positions but as they hit the Haaghoek cobbles, it was Topsport Vlaanderen who strung things out. However, they were unable to prevent Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo) from escaping. At the same time, lots of riders were getting dropped and Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek) crashed hard.

 

Jonas Rickaert (Topsport Vlaanderen) joined the move as they were back on the tarmac and the pair quickly got a 10-second advantage as the peloton slowed down. Keisse was back on the front with 77km to go where the gap was only 2.40.

 

Luke Durbridge joins the move

While Keisse set a steady pace, the two chasers increased their advantage to 30 seconds before an impressive Durbridge bridged the gap. While things were calm in the peloton, the trio had pushed their gap out to 1.25 with 65km to go and now only found themselves 1.25 behind the leaders.

 

Things started to get more nervous in the peloton as the big teams lined out their troops on the front. Keisse took a short turn but with 60km to go, it was again a fight for position. Hence, the gap had gone down to 2.30 as the break hit the Eikenberg where the chasers were just 50 seconds behind.

 

Gougeard is dropped

Surprisingly, Gougerad was the first to get dropped from the break while a suffering Boev just managed to hang onto the group. In the peloton, it was Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) who was first to hit the climb. He made the group explode but was unable to respond when Florian Senechal (Cofidis) and a Wanty rider attacked. Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) and Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal) also made the junction just as they crested the summit.

 

Gougeard was picked up by the chasers and Boev also dropped back to the chasers who saw their deficit grow from 35 seconds to 50 seconds after the climb. Meanwhile, Martin neutralized the Senechal group.

 

Wanty took over the pace-setting as they approached the Taaienberg but unsurprisingly Etixx-QuickStep won the battle. They picked up Gougeard who had been dropped from the break and as they hit the climb, the exciting finale started.

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