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With an impressive sprint, European champion Baska took his first pro victory in the bunch sprint at the Handzame Classic, clearly distancing pre-race favourite Groenewegen; Meersman completed the podium

Photo: Le Tour de Langkawi 2016






18.03.2016 @ 17:35 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

European champion Erik Baska (Tinkoff) confirmed his huge potential as a sprinter by claiming his first pro win in the bunch kick at the Handzame Classic. The Slovakian was clearly faster than pre-race favourite Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) who had to settle for second while defending champion Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) showed improving form by taking third.


Last year Erik Baska was a strong sprinter on the U23 scene and crowned an impressive season by claiming the win at the European Championships. Being a Slovakian, it was no surprise that he was given the chance to turn professional at the Tinkoff team of his compatriot Peter Sagan.


Baska has had a slow start to his pro career, mostly working for his teammate Michael Kolar in the sprints. He has had a few opportunities in the Dubai Tour and the Tour de Langkawi but has had to settle for minor spots in the top 10.


Today Baska proved that he has the potential to be a top sprinter by claiming a very impressive and dominant victory in the bunch sprint that decided the 14th edition of the sprint race Handzame Classic. The Slovakian proved to be in a class of his own as he clearly distanced pre-race favourite Dylan Groenewegen who had been given the perfect lead-out.


Baska had been riding attentively all day but Tinkoff first showed themselves at the start of the final lap of the 15.8km finishing circuit that included the small Ruidenberg climb at the midpoint. At this point, Marcin Bialoblocki (ONE) was leading the peloton by 17 seconds.


Tinkoff hit the front with Nikolay Trusov after a very hectic phase but things briefly calmed down until Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) showed himself in his comeback race as he hit the front with Tosh van der Sande on his wheel. Meanwhile, Groenewegen spent some precious energy as he had to work his way back to the front after a puncture.


Nippo won the fight as three riders hit the front before Gazprom-Rusvelo took over. They brought Bialoblocki back with 11km to go but were passed by Roompot who led the peloton onto the narrow road with the Ruidenberg.


Daniele Colli (Nippo) attacked and was joined by Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff). The pair had a small advantage as they crested the summit.


A Gazprom rider failed to bridge the gap but Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep) and a Nippo rider had more luck. A Roompot rider and Rasmus Guldhammer (Stölting) also made it across before the Nippo rider was dropped.


The gap was minimal as Veranda’s Willems were chasing hard and they brought it back together with 7km to go. As the pace briefly went down, a CCC rider tried his hand and he had a small advantage for a little while until David Boucher (Crelan) brought him back.


Boucher led the peloton under the 5km to go banner before Gazprom hit the front with two riders. Groenewegen was now back in the right end of the peloton and Victor Campenaerts, Maarten Wynants and Robert Wagner led him to the very front.


Etixx-QuickStep played with the muscles as they lined up Iljo Keisse, Gianni Meersman, Nikolas Maes and Lukasz Wisniowski on the front. The former took a huge turn until Gazprom passed them as they hit the final series of turns with 3km to go.


Three riders from Gazprom led the group through the corners but it was too early and as they slowed down, Matthias Krizek (Roth) took off. He got a little advantage before Veranda’s Willems starter to chase. Again it was Boucher who neutralized the move with less than 1km to go.


Lotto Soudal hit the front with Jelle Wallays, Sean De Bie and Tosh van der Sande, with the Etixx trio of Wisniowski, Maes and Meersman overtaking them as they passed the flamme rouge. Wisnowski drove it on the front but it was Wagner who sprinted past with Groenewegen on his wheel.


Maes managed to come around Wagner but Groenewegen was quick to slot into second before he launched his sprint from the perfect position. However, he had no match to Baska’s speed when the Slovakian came flying from around 10th position to easily distance everybody else and claim an impressive win. Groenewegen had to settle for second while Meersman completed the podium.


With the Handzame Classic done and dusted, the Belgian classics season steps up another gear next Wednesday when the riders will tackle the Dwars door Vlaanderen semi-classic.


A flat course

The 14th edition of the Handzame Classic was held on a 199km course that brought the riders from Bredene to Handzame. After a flat run along the coast, the riders faced four pave sectors and five smaller climbs before they reached the finish for the first time. In the end, they did three laps of 15.8km finishing circuit that included the very small Ruidenberg climb around the midpoint.


It was a cloudy day in Belgium when the riders gathered for the start. As it was the case in Wednesday's race in Nokere, it was an extremely fast opening phase of the race. Aided by the tailwind, there were attacks everywhere as the riders sped down the coast with a speed 60km/h.


Two riders get clear

After 20 km of racing, four riders that included Gorik Gardeyn (Superano Ham), finally managed to establish an advantage of 20 seconds, but they were quickly brought back. 10km later, five riders including Matt Goss (ONE) escaped, and they built up a lead of 15 seconds. However, they had little success and at the same time two crashed created chaos in the bunch.


After an hour, the riders had completed no less than 50km, and no one had managed to get clear. When they left the coast, the pace finally went down a bit when Tom Devriendt (Wanty) and Gijs Van HOECKE (Topsport Vlaanderen) had escaped. As a result, the quickly got a gap of 3.05 at the 62km mark while the average speed dropped to 45km/h.


The break is caught

The calm atmosphere did not last long, with a 10-man chase group with Peter Williams (ONE) getting clear. However, the peloton reacted immediately and brought it back while also reducing the gap to 2.40 with 110km to go.


There was a sudden injection of pace in the peloton and in a matter of just 20km, the front duo was suddenly caught. Hence, it was all back together with 90km to go.


Seven riders get clear

It took another 15 km of attacking before a new 7-rider group was formed when Michael Reihs (Stölting), Marcin Bialoblocki (One Pro Cycling), Jonas Rickaert (Topsport Vlaanderen), Daniel Patten (Team Wiggins), Gianni Marchand (Cibel), Markus Hoelgaard (Joker) and Rob Ruijgh (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) took off. With 74km to go, they had a small 20-second advantage while Davide Martinelli (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sergey Nikolaev (Gazprom-Rusvelo) tried to bridge across. However, they had no success.


The gap had gone out to 45 seconds with 54km to go where the peloton had calmed down. The chase was starting to get organized, with Giacomo Berlato, Pier Paolo De Negri (Nippo), Xabier Zandio (Sky) and Koen Bouwman (LottoNL-Jumbo) setting the pace. They allowed the gap to go out to a minute as they approached the finishing circuit.


The peloton ups the pace

Bialoblocki led the front group across the line for the first time with a one-minute advantage while LottoNL-Jumbo added firepower to the chase with Steven Lammertink. Moments later, they went up the Ruidenberg for the first time where Rickaert made a small acceleration to win the intermediate sprint at the top. In the peloton, Veranda’s Willems set the pace on the climb.


After the ascent, Bouwman, De Negri and Antonio Viola (Nippo-Vini Fantini) clearly upped the pace in the peloton and they got some assistance from Gazprom-Rusvelo. As a consequence, the gap had dropped to 45 seconds with 35km to go.


A big fight for position

A crash involving Marcin Mrozek (CCC), Frederique Robert (Crelan) and Gianni Moscon (Sky) created some chaos but everybody was back on the bike immediately. Meanwhile, the chase continued as Lammertink had now taken over from Bouwman and the gap had dropped to 35 seconds at the next passage of the line.


The fight for position intensified massively as they approached the Ruidenberg and the early workers were swarmed by the trains from CCC, Gazprom, Wanty, Tinkoff and Bora-Argon 18. Gazprom-Rusvelo briefly won the battle but as they hit the narrow road with the Ruidenberg, it was again Veranda’s Willems in charge.


Bialoblocki takes off

Bialoblocki rode full gas up the climb which was too much for Patten who was quickly brought back by the field. The Pole had a small gap at the top while Tim De Troyer (Verandas) set the pace in the peloton which had again calmed down.


Bialoblocki kept going while Rickaert and Hoelgaard tried to join him. Reihs, Marchand and Ruijgh joined them but they constantly lost ground to the strong Pole who had pushed his advantage out to 35 seconds with 20km to go. In the peloton, Nippo had briefly taken control but it was again Verandas Willems that was in charge as they returned to the big road. One kilometre later, they caught the chasers.


As they approached the start of the final lap, the fight for position again intensified and it was Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff) who led the peloton across the line just 17 seconds behind Bialoblocki. Moments later, the Pole was back in the fold and it was Baska who came out on top.



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