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Accelerating from a 9-rider group on the final climb to the citadel in Namur, Debusschere took a solo win in the GP de Wallonie; pre-race favourite Bakelants and Laporte completed the podium

Photo: ANSA / DAL ZENNARO - PERI

GP DE WALLONIE

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JAN BAKELANTS

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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LOTTO-DSTNY

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16.09.2015 @ 18:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) confirmed that he is the form of his life when he took a surprise win in the GP de Wallonie which finishes at the top of the famous climb to the Citadel in Namur. With a powerful solo attack 1.5km from the finish, he left his 8 companions behind and managed to hold off Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) to take one of the biggest one-day wins of his career.

 

Yesterday Lotto Soudal announced their selection for the hard Belgian one-day race GP de Wallonie and openly admitted that they probably not had a rider to finish it off in the traditional uphill finish to the Citadel in Namur. Instead, they would try to go on the attack and targeted a top 5 result.

 

24 hours later the team could celebrate another big one-day win after Jens Debusschere created a surprise on the tough course in Wallonia. After his great climbing in the Tour of Britain, it was evident that he is currently in the form of his life but it still came as a surprise that he came out on top in a race that is traditionally for Ardennes specialists.

 

The race had really kicked into action on the third last climb with 20km to go. At this point, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) and Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) had a small 10-seconds advantage. However, that was quickly neutralized when pre-race favourite Jan Bakelants passed them with a strong attack.

 

Arthur Vichot tried to follow but was picked up by FDJ teammate Thibaut Pinot and the two Frenchmen managed to get back to the strong Belgian. Gaetan Bille (Verandas Willems) tried to join them as they went down the wet descent and managed to pass the cautious Pinot. However, it was a 20-rider group with four Lotto Soudal riders that gathered with 16km to go.

 

Kevin Ledanois (Bretagne) launched a strong solo attack and was joined by Olivier Pardini (Verandas Willems). The latter left his companion behind and as he was caught, Franck Bonnamour (Bretagne) took off. He made it back to Pardini as they hit the penultimate climb while Michael Schär (BMC) and Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) were brought back after briefly trying to bridge the gap.

 

Laurens De Plus (Belgium) made a great solo effort to bridge the 15-second gap but it was all in vain as Bakelants soon passed the trio with another strong attack. Pinot and Christophe Laporte joined him and only Bonnamour could follow the trio. After the top, Jelle Vanendert, Debusschere (Lotto Soudal), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Vichot and Bille also joined them to make it a 9-rider group that quickly got a 30-second advantage over a disorganized chase group led by Michael Gogl (Tinkoff-Saxo) and a few BMC riders.

 

Vichot briefly tried to attack on the descent before Debusschere made an unsuccessful move. However, the group was back together as they hit the final 3km climb to the finish.

 

Molard decided to sacrifice himself for Laporte and so set a fast pace right from the bottom. Bonnamour and Vichot were quickly dropped while Gogl was still chasing desperately in the next group.

 

Just as Vichot and Bonnafour had made it back with 1.5km to go, Debusschere attacked hard from the rear  end of the group. Pinot desperately tried to bring him back, sending Molard, Vichot and Bonnamour out the back door but when he swung off, the group came back together. Molard went back to work but Debusschere increased his advantage.

 

This forced Bakelants to do a long sprint but it was all too late. No one managed to pass the Ag2r rider but he had to settle for second behind the strong Debusschere while Laporte completed the podium. Jerome Baugnies (Wanty) was the first from the chase group to complete the top 10.

 

Racing in Belgium resumes on Friday with the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen which is traditionally decided in a bunch sprint.

 

A hilly race

The 2015 edition of the GP de Wallonie was held on a 198.2km course that brought the riders from Chaudfontaine to the traditional uphill finish on the climb to the citadel in Namur. It was up or down all day, with a total of seven categorized climbs. The first three of those were located in the first half and then the riders tackled another three climbs in the finale before they hit the final climb.

 

It was a rainy day in Belgium when the riders gathered for the start. That didn’t dampen the attacking spirit as the race got off to a very fast start with lots of attacks. After 30km of aggressive racing, no one had managed to escape.

 

The break is formed

Finally, Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne), Dieter Bouvry (Roubaix), Christophe Premont (Verandas), Thomas Wertz (Wallonie) and Kevin van Melsen (Wanty) managed to build an advantage that was 1.16 at the 40km mark. Romain Barroso (Wanty) and Gertjan De Vos (3M) took off in pursuit. At the top of the third climb, they were 1.30 behind while the peloton was at 3.16.

 

While the gap to the bunch stayed around the 3-minute mark, the two chasers got to within 45 seconds of the leaders. It went back up to 1.09 but things were looking promising when it was again down to just 33 seconds.

 

Bouhanni goes down

That’s when bad luck struck as a closed railroad crossing stopped them. The peloton could pass freely and they quickly brought the two chasers back. At this point, the gap was only 2.38 but it went out to 3.40 again.

 

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was again involved in a crash but me managed to stay in the race unlike Steff Cras (Belgium) who was forced to withdraw. Meanwhile, the peloton had accelerated and brought the gap down to 1.45 with 115km to go.

 

FDJ, Ag2r and Veranclassic lead the chase

The gap hovered around 2 minutes for a while and with 103km to go, it was 1.55. In the peloton, Samuel Dumoulin, Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r), Antoine Leveu (Veranclassic) and the FDJ pair of Lorrenzo Manzin and Marc Sarreau were leading the chase.

 

Petr Vakoc (Etixx - Quick Step), Edward Beltran (Tinkoff - Saxo), Calvin Watson (Trek Factory Racinf), Otto Vergaerde (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) abandoned the race in the feed zone while the gap was slowly coming down. It was only 1.05 as the riders entered the final 80km. This prompted the peloton to slow down a bit and the gap went out to 1.35.

 

Big crash

With 75km to go, disaster struck for Etixx-Quickstep who hit the deck in an incident that also involved De Plus, and was forced to withdraw. Just two kilometres later, a big crash near the front split the field and brought down early workers Leveu and Jauregui.

 

Sarreau, Manzin and Dumoulin continued to ride hard in the nervous peloton which was 1.10 behind with 65km to go. The peloton was single-file and the fight for position started. Meanwhile, Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) abandoned the race after having been involved in a crash and the BMC pair of Loic Vliegen and Floris Gerts were among the many riders to rejoin the peloton.

 

The break is caught

With 55km to go, Manzin and Sarreau had finished their work after they had brought the gap down to 40 seconds. Five kilometres later it was 30 seconds and this was the signal for Wertz and Premont to attack from the break.

 

Van Melsen was briefly in lone pursuit while the rest of the group was caught. In the peloton, FDJ stagiaires Marc Foumier and Elie Gesbert were now going full gas and they brought it all back together with 48km to go.

 

A strong group gets clear

The FDJ pair continued to ride on the front and didn’t react when Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) took off. However, their teammate Francisc Mourey was smart to join Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Michael Schär (BMC), Julien Van Den Brande (Veranclassic) and Rudy Kowalski when they bridged across to Helven, meaning that they didn’t have to work in the peloton.

 

Instead, Ag2r rider Nico Denz and Hubert Dupont had to ride hard to bring back a chase group with Lukasz Wisniowski and Olivier Chevalier and keep the gap around 15 seconds as they hit a climb with 38km to go. Here Dupont was doing an excellent job to maintain the situation and whittle the peloton significantly down before he again got some help from Denz.

 

Bakelants makes his first move

The pair brought the break back with 26km to go and now Wanty took over the pace-setting. They didn’t respond as Ledanois took off and so it was Denz and Dupont who brought the Frenchman back.

 

As they hit the third last climb, Vervaeke attacked and while Turgis joined him, the peloton splintered. Moments later Bakelants made his first move but he failed to get clear. When he tried again, he made the difference and from there the exciting finale unfolded.

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