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The newly crowned Belgian champion wins the first race in the Drikleur as he holds off Meersman and Lobato in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour de Wallonie

Photo: Vincent Calu/Photonews

GIANNI MEERSMAN

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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JUAN JOSE LOBATO

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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TOUR DE WALLONIE 

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26.07.2014 @ 22:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jens Debusschere (Lotto Belisol) got his time as Belgian champion off to the best possible start when he won today’s first stage of the Tour de Wallonie in a bunch sprint. The Belgian benefited from strong teamwork all day to hold off Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) in the bunch sprint to become the first leader of the five-day race.

 

When he won the Belgian road race championships in late June, Jens Debusschere regretted that he would have to wait another month before wearing the prestigious Drikleur for the first time. Today he finally got the chance to race in the coveted jersey and it was definitely worth the waiting time.

 

As he had been it on that glorious day in June, Debusschere proved to be the fastest when the first stage of the Tour de Wallonie ended in a bunch sprint. Having used his Lotto Belisol team to control the race all day, he paid them back for their hard work by beating Gianni Meersman and Juan Jose Lobato in the final dash to the line.

 

The five-day race started with a short 147.9km stage from Frasnez-Lez-Anvaing to Tournai and like all other stages in the hilly it race it was no flat affair. The riders had to tackle no less than six categorized climbs along the way but ad the final part of the stage was flat and none of the ascents were very difficult, a bunch sprint was expected.

 

Nonetheless, it took a bit of time for the early break to be established and the riders covered more than 15km before Zico Waeytens (Topsport), Thomas Wertz (Color Code) and Julien Stassen (Wallonie) were allowed to take off. When the elastic had snapped, however, the gap grew rapidly and reached a maximum of 7.54 at the 35km mark.

 

Trek, Lotto Belisol and Wanty started to control proceedings but soon after, the bulk of the work was left to Debusschere’s Lotto guys. With lots of confidence in their sprinter, however, they gladly started to reduce the gap.

 

Meanwhile, the escapees contested the many KOM sprints and apart from the first one, Stassen won them all to become the first holder of the mountains jersey. Waeytens was the fastest in the intermediate sprints and secured himself the first sprints jersey while Wertz was selected as the most aggressive rider.

 

When the riders crossed the finish line for the penultimate time to start the final 66km circuit, the gap was down to just 3.37 and with 35km to go, the escapees were just 1.07 ahead. They tried to make a reaction but with 22km to go, it was back together.

 

On the final climb, several riders tried to attack and it was Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) who led Waeytens and Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar) over the top. However, no one managed to get clear before Sütterlin launched a move 10km from the line.

 

Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Lotto Belisol and Wanty were now battling for control and they brought the German back a few kilometres further up the road. Hence, it all came down to the expected bunch sprint where Debusschere emerged as the fastest.

 

The race continues with a harder stage tomorrow when the riders will tackle six climbs in the final half. As the final one comes 29km from the finish, however, another bunch sprint is expected and so Debusschere has a good chance to extend his narrow 1-second lead over Waeytens in the overall standings.

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