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Part of a 41-rider group that emerged early in the race, Gilbert came out on top in the uphill sprint to win GP Cerami after four leaders had been caught 700m from the line; van Poppel and Devriendt completed the podium

Photo: ANSA / DAL ZENNARO - ZENNARO - PERI

DANNY VAN POPPEL

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GRAND PRIX PINO CERAMI

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PHILIPPE GILBERT

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22.07.2015 @ 18:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) got the best possible return to competition when he came out on top in his comeback race, the Grand Prix Cerami. Part of a 41-rider front group that escaped after an aggressive first part of the race, he turned out to be the fastest in the uphill sprint that decided the race after four attackers had been caught just 700m from the line. Danny van Poppel (Trek) and Tom Devriendt (Wanty) completed the podium.

 

Philippe Gilbert was hugely frustrated to miss the Tour de France after a small fracture was revealed several weeks after he had crashed in the Fleche Wallonne. Since then he has been building his condition for the autumn season where he aims at the classics and the World Championships.

 

Today he proved that he has returned to form just in time for his next big goal which is the Clasica San Sebastian in less than two weeks. The Belgian turned out to be the strongest in his comeback, the Grand Prix Cerami which has been moved from its usual spring slot.

 

Gilbert was attentive in the early part of the very aggressive race and so he was part of the 41-rider group that emerged after lots of attacks had made sure that only the strongest were left. He had his teammates Loic Vliegen and Dylan Teuns at this side and with an uphill finishing straight, it was a finale tailor-made for him.

 

However, it was no easy feat to keep things under control in the big group. Just before the final lap of the 13.2km finishing circuit, Yannick Eijssen (Wanty), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen), Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep), Huub Duijn (Roompot) and Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP) escaped and after Eijssen had been dropped, the front quartet still had an advantage of 32 seconds with 5km to go.

 

BMC worked hard in the group alongside Wallonie-Bruxelles and their efforts paid off. With 700m to go, the front group was caught and Gilbert managed to hold off Danny van Poppel and Tom Devriendt in the uphill dash to the line.

 

With the win, Gilbert marks himself out as the big favourite for his next race, the Tour de Wallonie which starts on Saturday. The five-day race is made up of sprint stages and lumpy stages in the Ardennes and so Gilbert has a big chance to boost his confidence even more before he travels to San Sebastian.

 

A lumpy course

The 2015 edition of the Grand Prix Cerami was held on a 210.8km course that brought the riders from Saint-Ghislain to Frameries. It included a total of 7 smaller climbs on the lumpy routes in Wallonia and ended with three laps of a 13.2km finishing circuit. It was mostly flat but the final few kilometres were uphill, setting the scene for the strong sprinters.

 

It was a pleasant day in Belgium when the riders headed out for their neutral ride and they prepared themselves for a fast start. The early part of the race turned out to be very aggressive with lots of attacks.

 

Lots of attacks

After 4km of racing, Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R), Brian Van Goethem (Roompot Oranje), Gaëtan Pons (Wallonie Bruxelles), Joeri Calleeuw (Verandas Willems) and Dieter Bouvry (Roubaix Lille Métropole) formed the first promising move but they were quickly brought back. Van Goethem tried again and this time he was joined by Antoine Warnier (Wallonie Bruxelles) before Timo Roosen (LottoNL), Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Andrew Tennant (Wiggins) also made the junction.

 

The five riders did their best to stay ahead but as they had no success, Pim lightart (Lotto-Soudal), Fumi Beppu (Trek Factory), Axel Domont (AG2R), Gaëtan Pons (Wallonie-Bruxelles), David Van der Poel (BKCP), Joeri Calleeuw (Verandas Willems), Dieter Bouvry (Verandas Willems) and Jonathan Dibben (Team Wiggins) got clear. They had no luck either but the fast pace created several splits in the peloton.

 

A 41-rider front group

Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep), Sean De Bie (Lotto-Soudal), Loic Vliegen (BMC), Mike Teunissen (Lott NL), Maxime Daniel (AG2R),  Oliver Naesen (Topsport Vlaanderen), Yannick Eijssen (Wanty), Rob Ruijgh (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), Mathieu Van der Poel (BKCP), Christopher Lawless (Wiggins), Hartthijs De Vries and Cees Bol (Rabobank) used the confusion to escape but were chased by a 33-rider first peloton with Boonen, Maes (Etixx-Quick.Step), Boeckmans, D. Vanendert, J. Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal), Gilbert, Teuns (BMC), Alafaci, D. Van Poppel (Trek Factory), Hofland, Roosen, Tjaallingi (Lotto NL), Courteille, Le Bon, Pichon (FDJ), Berard, Turgot (AG2R), Campenaerts, Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen), Devriendt (Wanty), Feillu, Ledanois (Bretagne), Duijn (Roompot), Delfosse, Demoitié, Habeaux (Wallonie-Bruxelles), Palm (Color Code-Aquality Protect), Cammaerts, Dewortelaer (Veranclassic-Ekoi), Wasleben (BKCP), Lebeau (Roubaix LM) and Meijers (Rabobank). As they hit the first climb, they were 11 seconds behind the leaders and it was van der Poel who led Lawless and Daniel over the top.

 

Van der Poel led De Bie and Serry over the top of the second climb before the two groups merged to form a 41-rider front group. Van der Poel was again first on the third climb, followed by Le Bon and Boonen. At this point, the second peloton had been distanced by 2.05.

 

A closed railroad crossing

Van der Poel continued to pick up points for the KOM classification as he led Walsleben and Gilbert over the top of the fourth limb. Meanwhile, Teunissen fought his way back to the front group after a puncture.

 

As they entered the feed zone and Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo), the front group had an advantage of 1.58 but disaster struck for the leaders when they were stopped by a closed railroad crossing. When they were back on their bikes, their advantage had been reduced to 30 seconds and they had to ride hard to reopen it. As a consequence, Dewortelaer was dropped.

 

Terpstra tries to bridge the gap

The front group rode strongly to extend their advantage to two minutes by the time Campenaerts led Dennis Vanendert and Boonen over the top of the fifth climb. Moments later Gilbert had to spend some energy to rejoin the group after a puncture.

 

Roubaix led the chase in the peloton but they were still 2.12 behind when Campenaerts led Berarad and Wallays over the top of the 6th climb. This was the signal for Wesley Kreder (Roompot), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Pim Lightart (Soudal Lotto), Maarten TjaalLingi (Lotto NL) and Oliver Naesen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) to try to bridge the gap and later Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick Step), Stig Broeckx, Boris Vallée, Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal), Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (FDJ), Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R), Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) also took off.

 

The attacking starts

There was no great cooperation in the main group but they still had an advantage of 2.09 over their first chasers and 2.40 over the next group when they started the first of three laps of the finishing circuit. Here Lawless started the attacking but he was quickly caught. Alafaci and Palm were both dropped.

 

At the start of the final lap, the group split when van der Poel, Serry, Wallays, Eijssen and Duijn got clear and got an advantage of 20 seconds. Halfway through the lap, Wallays attacked and while Eijssen was dropped he fought hard to stay clear.

 

The group is caught

The Belgian was brought back and the four leaders still had an advantage of 32 seconds with 5km to go. On kiloemetre later it was 33 seconds and it was Sebastien Delfosse who had brought it down to 12 seconds with 3km to go.

 

Boonen took a huge turn on the front and that spelled the end for the break that was caught with 700m to go. Hence, it came down to an uphill sprint and here Gilbert turned out to be the fastest.

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