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After a strong attack on the final climb in Namur, Gallopin narrowly held Vakoc off to win the GP de Wallonie by the tiniest of margins; Baugnies completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

GP DE WALLONIE

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NEWS

JEROME BAUGNIES

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

LOTTO SOUDAL

TEAM PROFILE
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NEWS

PETR VAKOC

NEWS

TONY GALLOPIN

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS
14.09.2016 @ 17:35 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) firmly established himself as one of the big favourites for Sunday’s European Championships by taking his first win since the 2015 Paris-Nice at the GP de Wallonie. After a powerful attack on the climb to the citadel in Namur, he held Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) off by the tiniest of margins before Jerome Baugnies (Wanty) won the sprint for third.

 

After his excellent Tour de France in 2014, Tony Gallopin enjoyed a very successful 2015 season. He started really well with a memorable solo win on a stage at Paris-Nice and went on to do another great Tour where he was sitting in the top 10 until he cracked in the final week. He ended the season with top 10 result at both the Worlds and Il Lombardia and the great results made him confident that he would take another step in 2016.

 

However, nothing has worked out for Gallopin who has failed to win a single race. He didn’t hit peak condition for the Ardennes classics and his Tour de France ended as a bit of a disaster.

 

Luckily, things turned around immediately after the end of the Tour. Just one week later, he beat most of the best climbers when he finished second in the Clasica San Sebastian and last week he did one of the best time trials of his life when he took fourth overall at the Tour of Britain. He is building form for Sunday’s European Championships and today he confirmed that he is ready when he came out on top in the dress rehearsal, the GP de Wallonie, whose finish on the climb to the Citadel in Namur makes it very similar to Sunday’s race un Plumelec.

 

Gallopin already proved his class when he established a 7-rider group of favourites on the penultimate climb but then seemed to be out of the battle when the move was neutralized just as they hit the final 2km climb. However, he had kept something in reserve and with a powerful attack halfway up the climb, he dropped all his rivals. A furious chase of Petr Vakoc nearly paid off but Gallopin just had enough to hold the Czech off by mere centimetres.

 

The 56th edition of the GP de Wallonie was held on a pretty traditional 205.5km course that brought the riders from Beaufays on the outskirts of Liege to the Citadel in Namur. After a flat start, they headed into the Ardennes to tackle the early climbs of Cote de Saint-Hubet, Cote de Saint-Remacle and Cote de Werbomont after 31.3km, 44.8km and 59.1km respectively. The middle section of the race was pretty flat but things got much harder in the finale where three climbs in the final 50km preceded the final ascent to the citadel. First up as the Cote d’Emeton with 43.8km to go, then it was time for the Cote de Lustin 26.2km from the finish and the penultimate challenge was the Tienne aux Pierres with 18.4km to go. Finally, the riders tackled the final 2km climb that averaged 4.8%.

 

Belgium is currently enjoying summer-like conditions,so there was heat and bright sunshine on the menu, as the riders gathered for the start south of Liege. Four riders were absent as with Jonas Ahlstrand (Cofidis), David Boucher (Crelan), Joeri Calleeuw (Veranda's Willems) and Tom Bosmans (Veranda's Willems) stayed at the hotel.

 

Unsurprisingly, the start was fast and aggressive. Pirmin Lang (IAM), Maurits Lammertink (Roompot), Maximilian Picoux (Color Code) and Dylan Kowalski (Roubaix) were the first to get a small advantage, but after 5km of racing, they were brought back. After a few more attacks, Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM), Gert Joeaar (Cofidis), Reinier Honig (Roompot), Felix Pouilly (Roubaix) and Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda's Willems) managed to get clear. They got an advantage of 24 seconds before Axel Flet (Veranlassic) took off in pursuit. He never made the junction as Wallonie started to chase hard and for a long time the gap was stable at around 30 seconds. Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty) and Antoine Warnier (Wallonie) tried to bridge the gap but they did not succeed in their mission.

 

Finally, Johan Hemroulle (Color Code), Samuel Leroux (Vera Classic) and Gregory Habeaux (Wallonie) got an advantage and while the peloton took a natural break, they approached the front group. When the gap to the peloton was 4.20 with 170km to go, they made the junction, and thus nine riders had gathered in the front.

 

The gap reached 5.50 before Lotto Soudal placed Frederik Frison on the front where the Belgian quickly shaved a minute off the gap. Also Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Team Quick Step) came to the fore, and together the two workhorses reduced the gap to 4.20 before both the peloton and the break had to stop at a railroad crossing. When they started again the advantage was 4.42, and then Frison and Van Keirsbulck kept the situation stable.

 

As they passed through the feed zone, Van Keirsbulck and Frison upped the pace, reducing the gap to just 4 minutes with 87km to go. The escapees responded well and as the gap stabilized again, the WorldTour teams were forced to react. Rodrigo Contreras (Etixx-QuickStep) and Kevin Deltombe(Lotto Soudal) came to the fore to share the work with Van Keirsbulck and Frison as they entered the final 70km.

 

With 60km to go, the gap had dropped to 2.20 and now Fortuneo-Vital Concept were also contributing with Jean-Marc Bideau. At the same time, the terrain was taking its toll as Leroux was dropped from the break.

 

Van Keirsbulck and Frison ended their work and left it to Bideau, Contreras and Deltombe to keep the gap at 2 minutes as they hit the final 50km. The escapees increased the pace even more and still had 1.50 when they hit the first of the four climbs in the finale.

 

The escapees worked well on the ascent but they were unable to resist the chase. When Deltombe and Contreras swung off, the gap had dropped to just 1.20.

 

Bideau was joined by riders from the Topsport Vlaanderen team but they were swamped when the fight for position intensified. When Etixx-QuickStep took control with 30km to go, the gap was down to only 50 seconds. In the chaos, a crash split the field when Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM) and Benoit Jarrrier (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) hit the deck hard.

 

The escapees hit the next climb with an advantage of 20 seconds and Le Bon sat up immediately. Moments later Habeaux attacked and he dropped his companions. Pouilly slowly made it back though.

 

Etixx-QuickStep took control in the peloton as they went up the climb before Roompot attacked with Piete Weening. Christian Mager (Stölting) joined the Dutchman and they sprinted past the chase group before they made contact with the two leaders.

 

Weening was setting a brutal pace and unsurprisingly Habeaux and Poilly were unable to follow. Mager also had to surrender and a Cofidis rider who had almost regained contact also cracked.

 

Larry Warbasse (IAM) was the next to attack and he was joined by Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r). The trio caught Weening just as they reached the top while Etixx-QuickStep led the chase.

 

Etixx-QuickStep closed the gap on the descent as so everything was back together with 23km to go. Armee kept the speed high and set the tempo as they hit the penultimate climb.

 

Tony Gallopin (Lotto Sodual) was the first of the favourites to attack and was joined by Jan Bakelants (Ag2r), Warbasse and Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ). A small group with Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen), Xandro Meurisse (Wanty), Huub Duijn (Roompot), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) and Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie) joined the move before Bakelants went again. This time only Gallopin, Reichenbach, Pozzovivo and Sprengers could follow and while the rest of the group was caught, the quintet built a solid advantage before they reached the top.

 

Duijn and Vakoc caught the front group on the descent and the septet hit the final 15km with an advantage of 20 seconds. In the peloton, Wanty were chasing hard with Guillaume Martin and Thomas Degand, slowly reducing the gap to 15 seconds during the next 5km.

 

Pozzovivo sacrificed himself completely for Bakelants and his hard work paid off as the gap went out to 20 seconds with 7km to go. However, as Bakelants and Sprengers started to skip turns, the advantage came down quickly and with 3km to go, the group was brought back.

 

Nick van der Lijke hit the front for Roompot and then Frederik Backaert took over for Wanty. Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) launched the first attack but Pozzovivo shut it down immediately. Instead, the Frenchman started to ride on the front until the attacking started again and this time it was Pozzovivo who gave it a go. Weening joined the Italian and soon Reichenbach and Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen) also made it across.

 

Pozzovivo kept riding on the front while Planckaert led the chase. Bakelants was sitting in second wheel and then jumped across with Gallopin on his wheel.

 

That’s when Gallopin made his move. As soon as the junction was made, the Frenchman accelerated and he immediately got a gap while the rest of the group was caught. As they entered the final kilometre, he had a solid advantage of five seconds over a group of 10-15 riders.

 

Vakoc was still not done yet and as the road flattened he made a big attack. Slowly he started to get closer and it all came down to a thrilling finale. Gallopin just held the fast-finishing Czech off with the tiniest of margins to take his first win of the season. Baugnies came off the wheel of Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) to sprint to third place, followd by Duijn and Edet.

 

With the GP de Wallonie done and dusted, attention turns to Friday’s Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen which is a significantly flatter affair suited to pure sprinters.

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