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"I am very satisfied with this victory. Of course, my fellow countryman Peter Sagan is an example for me. He is the world champion and for me the absolute favorite to win in Milan-Sanremo."

Photo: Le Tour de Langkawi

ANDREW FENN

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BORA-HANSGROHE

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DANNY VAN POPPEL

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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DYLAN GROENEWEGEN

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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HANDZAME CLASSIC

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KRIS BOECKMANS

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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MADS PEDERSEN

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ONE PRO CYCLING

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PHIL BAUHAUS

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ROOMPOT-CHARLES

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STÖLTING SERVICE GROUP

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TEAM JUMBO-VISMA

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TEAM SKY

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TOSH VAN DER SANDE

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18.03.2016 @ 22:32 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.

 

We have gathered several reactions.

 

Erik Baška after first pro win: Sagan is an example for me

Erik Baška has raced to the biggest victory of his young career so far at the 14th edition of the Handzame Classic in Belgium, sprinting clear in the bunch finish to take a convincing win in his first year at WorldTour level.

 

The 22 year-old Slovakian sprinter was Tinkoff’s protected rider from the off today and made sure that he delivered after his teammates, riding as just six here, dropped him off in a perfect position in the final kilometre before he unleashed a perfectly timed finish to outpace all around him.

 

Delighted with the result, Sport Director Tristan Hoffman said: “Things didn’t work out like we wanted and had hoped them to on Wednesday, but sometimes you need days like this to refocus, and today it came together. Erik is a neo pro, and we already saw how fast he was last year but the step up this year is very different, yet today he showed that he’s getting stronger quickly.

 

“The guys all raced really well together. Early on we covered some of the course of Gent-Wevelgem, over a climb and some cobblestones and Michael Gogl and Jay McCarthy were up there, and then later on everyone looked after Erik well.”

 

“I have to say a big thank you to the team and to the Sport Directors for giving me the opportunity to be the leader for this race,” said an elated Erik Baška after the finish. “Also to my teammates for doing an incredible job today. The race was pretty hectic but I had really good legs and a good position in the finish. Michael Kolar brought me into around 10th to 15th wheel with about 500m to go and from there I told him that I would go on my own, up the left as there was more space there. I started to sprint with around 200 to 250m to go and had enough speed that I knew I had it in the last 50m.

 

"I had enormously good legs today. I had to make a swerve to come around Dylan Groenewegen, but then I could gain speed and beat the rest.

 

"Last year I was European champion at the U23 level and made sure I could make the transition to the real thing. It may be that I surprised everyone here, but I should probably thank my team for the work done. I was given the job as the protected sprinter. I am therefore very pleased that I was able to accomplish this.

 

“They have dropped me off well. In the final kilometer we chose the position just behind the riders of Etixx-QuickStep so I could come out appropriately. I am very satisfied with this victory. Of course, my fellow countryman Peter Sagan is an example for me. He is the world champion and for me the absolute favorite to win in Milan-Sanremo.

 

"Preparation has gone well so far, and I'm really happy with this win after the hard work. I started racing in Dubai and then was in Langkawi so I've got some good racing in the legs, and this win will hopefully give me the confidence I need to keep stepping up.

 

The race started with an early break of two riders, following a flurry of attacks from the drop of the flag. The peloton wasn’t convinced with the composition of the move and everything came back together before a group of seven riders moved clear at the mid-way point. This move never gained more than a minute and gradually their lead was reeled back in as the Tinkoff riders stayed safe in the wheels, focusing their energy on the expected bunch sprint.

 

With 11km to go the final breakaway rider was brought back into the fold and the scene was set for a fast finish. Riders tried to break clear but the peloton was attentive to the moves. The Tinkoff jerseys were a constant presence at the front of the bunch as the kilometres ticked by, with Jay McCarthy covering moves and then the team keeping Baška out of the wind, preparing for his sprint.

 

As the race opened up on the wide road on the approach to the line, Baška unleashed his effort, coming around the outside of the bunch, victory never looking in doubt as he pulled ahead of the sprinting bunch behind. The win is Baška’s first of the year, his first year with the team and at WorldTour level, and will be a great confidence boost ahead at this early stage of the season.

 

Hoffman continued: “At the December training camp Erik was sick so at the January camp we had to take it easier but he still showed that he was quick. He had a good build up to the start of the season, and then he showed good legs at Langkawi, getting up there in some of the sprints. We don’t want to put too much pressure on him as it’s a big step up from the races he did last year, but today he showed his promise for the future.”

 

Late puncture costly for Dylan Groenewegen’s lead-out in Handzame

Dylan Groenewegen finished second in the Belgian one-day Handzame Classic. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Robert Wagner led out Groenewegen, who was passed by Erik Baška (Tinkoff).

 

“We wanted to do a good sprint lead-out today,” Dylan Groenewegen said after his second place. “But I punctured with 13 kilometres to go. That forced us to use two men already to get me back in front in time. Those riders were too tired in the final.”

 

Groenewegen was in front in the final kilometre of the race together with Robert Wagner.

 

“Robert gave me a great lead-out. I had to take off with 300 metres to go afterwards, which was too early in the end. We faced headwind in the sprint, as well. Baška was a bit faster than me, unfortunately.

 

"Then I thought my time had arrived, I went full gas. However, I had to let Baska pass me. I do not know him, but he is a very fast rider and I know we will hear a lot from him. I was pretty sure that I was good so I asked the team to work for me. Until that flat tire, it worked well. Robert Wagner did a nice lead-out, but with the headwind I lost too much speed.

 

Merijn Zeeman didn’t blame his team after the race.

 

“The race was uncontrolled,” the sports director said. “We had to work hard to make sure that it was going to end up in a bunch sprint. We succeeded. The lead-out ran quite smoothly, as well. When Dylan punctured, Bram Tankink gave him his wheel, so Bram wasn’t able to play a role in the sprint preparation anymore. Twan Castelijns also had a flat tyre within the final three kilometres so he also faded away. Victor Campenaerts and Maarten Wynants picked it up well afterwards and Robert did everything he could to make sure that Dylan didn’t get boxed in.”

 

The moment Groenewegen began his sprint was the right one in Zeeman’s opinion. “

 

This was the only way to win the race. If he had waited longer, the riders would have passed him like a wave and that would have ruled him out. Of course, we’re fed up about not winning, but everyone is working on the development of the sprint train. We still have to improve, but I think that the team deserves a compliment for today’s performance.”

 

Gianni Meersman builds confidence for Catalonia with third place in Handzame

Victorious at the previous edition of Handzame Classic, Gianni Meersman was again among the protagonists: helped by his teammates, who pulled hard in the closing kilometers of the one-day race, the Belgian put in a strong sprint at the end, which helped him come third.

 

"It wasn't easy out there, because it was cold and windy today. The boys did a fantastic job and brought me in a good position with 300 meters to go. I am happy with my shape and with this result, which serves as a confirmation of my work in the past months", said Gianni Meersman after his first podium of the year.

 

"Baska certainly deserves the victory for sure even though he is still very young at 22 years of age. In the sprint I was boxed in a bit. The highest was second place, but even that did not work out. Baska was too fast and Groenewegen too. I could not keep them behind me. Like last year I was just dropped off perfectly. We had the same tactic. Three kilometers from the finish our team set the pace. In the final kilometer, however, the Lotto NL-Jumbo riders came and we were having difficulties. That is the price. I cannot blame my teammates. Nikolas Maes put me in position, and then I started. I'm satisfied with my growing form. In Nokere I was not bad. I went to a training camp in Calpe to work towards this time. I hope to reap the fruits in the coming weeks, also at the Tour of Catalonia. "

 

Young Roompot sprinter confirms potential with top 5 in Handzame

Roompot - Orange Platoon scored the sixth top five of the season. André Looij sprinted to fifth place in the 1.1 race in West Flanders.

 

"It is a shame that I could not finish off the good work of the team in a better way," Looij said afterwards."Especially Wesley Kreder and Barry Markus helped me well in the last kilometers. In the sprint I got trapped a bit and could only get full speed too late. It’s a shame because we rode really well ridden as a team today.”

 

Looij was also fourth last year. The young sprinter looks to test himself against the top sprinters in the other Flemish classics during the coming weeks.

 

Failed lead-out for Bora-Argon 18 in Handzame

BORA – ARGON 18 tried to lead out Phil Bauhaus. But as opposed to last Wednesday when the lead-out was timed a little early, the BORA – ARGON 18 train started their approach too late. In the end Bauhaus was blocked and could never make his full sprint but by crossing the line in 10th place, he secured another top ten result for the team.

 

“We tried to start our lead-out a little later than on Wednesday, but I think we started with a good timing. But when we moved up in the peloton we lost each other. So just Scott [Thwaites] and myself could help Phil in the final. Therefore, his position was not perfect, and he was blocked in the end too,” said Michael Schwarzmann.

 

“When we started our lead-out, everything went well. I also recovered really good from the crashes on Wednesday and had good legs. But we lost the organisation a little bit and so just Scott and Schwarzi could help me in the end. I also was blocked on the left and could never launch my sprint,” said Phil Bauhaus

 

“The team worked for Phil today. He felt good and we had also a little more luck today with the crashes, just Scott went down one time, but he could join the race again, nothing to worry about. The final was frantic again and our train did not work properly. Just Scott and Schwarzi could help Phil in the last 2k, that is too little to get a better result,” said André Schulze, sports director.

 

Mads Pedersen gets his chance for Stölting in Hadzame

Team Stölting Service Group showed itself in several breaks at the Handzame Classic (1.1) and also animated the final with an attack. In the sprint Mads Pedersen only narrowly missed the top 10 and finished in 18th position.

 

The start of the race was fast, the average speed for the first two hours was 45 km/h. A break of seven got away rather late; Michael Reihs was one of them. Although their advantage never rose above 3 minutes, they were only caught with 20 km to go.

 

On the final 10 km there were a couple of attacks. Rasmus Guldhammer was one of the riders trying to anticipate a sprint, but with 5 km to the line all attacks were neutralised. Pedersen could position himself well on the final kilometre, but on the last metres a handful of riders swept around him and boxed him in, meaning that he finished as 18th.

 

Sports Director Gregor Willwohl said: “Mads was feeling well, so we rode for him today. From km 70 he was in a break for around 30 km, then Michael Reihs made it into the group of seven that was only caught late in the race. In the end the top-10 didn’t quite work out for us, but we’re making progress. Dwars door Vlaanderen next week suits us better – that will be a really hard race.”

 

The next race for Team Stölting Service Group is Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, 23 March.

 

Marcin Bialoblocki impresses in Handzame Classic

ONE Pro Cycling animated the racing scene in Belgium once more with Marcin Bialoblocki going on a solo attack during the Handzame Classic.

 

Two riders slipped off the front of the group, followed closely by two more who managed to jump across to the leaders. Sam William’s celebrating his 22nd  birthday saw the danger and bridged across the gap with another rider to form a group of six riders. The peloton however gave them no more than fifteen seconds before reeling them in shortly afterwards.

 

Good rotation once again by the ONE Pro Cycling saw Matt Goss slide into a move after 32km of racing gaining 15 seconds however the composition wasn’t right and Goss came back to the peloton shortly afterwards knowing the move was never going to establish. After 55km of racing and only 8km to go until the first section of cobbles the day’s break of just two riders formed. The representatives were both from Belgian Pro Continental teams Topsport Vlaanderen and Wanty Groupe Gobert.

 

The peloton allowed the break to gain a maximum of 3 minutes before they began to start reeling them in before the finishing circuit. The peloton was active all day with several chase groups forming and being reeled straight back in by the peloton. Pete Williams got himself into one of the chase groups which was allowed a little bit of freedom before being brought back once more. Due to the high speed in the peloton the break was quickly brought back and the peloton was all back together after 98km of racing.

 

After a small lull in the peloton and a regrouping, seven riders escaped after 121km of racing including Marcin Bialoblocki. The peloton kept them on a tight leash allowing them a maximum gap of 1 minute with 48km to go. However at 24km to go he launched a solo attack from the breakaway, holding the peloton at 30 seconds for the next 13km until he was swept up by the peloton by teams keen to set up for the bunch sprint.

 

Once the break was caught team sprinter Chris Opie was left isolated in the peloton battling for position as they headed into the sprint. Opie battled hard to hold position but once the sprint unfolded didn’t have the legs and rolled home in 24th position.

 

Both Sky sprinters suffer late punctures in Handzame Classic

Team Sky missed out on a top 10 finish at the Handzame Classic after some bad luck in the closing stages.

 

Danny van Poppel and Andy Fenn both picked up punctures on the final 15-kilometre finishing circuit in Belgium, while Gianni Moscon, who finished an impressive eighth at Nokere Koerse on Wednesday, was affected by a late crash.

 

All three, along with Christian Knees, were in the mix 2km from the finish, but were a little way back in the peloton and were unable to launch their sprints. Erik Baska (Tinkoff) took the win by a bike's length, with Fenn th highest placed finisher.

 

Sport Director Servais Knaven was upbeat speaking to TeamSky.com on the team bus, despite the team's misfortune.

 

He said: "We had a lot of bad luck in the final stages. First Gianni Moscon crashed, then Andy Fenn had a flat tyre, and with 10km to go Danny had a flat tyre too! Plus there was no time to check the rear brake and so his wheel was rubbing. All of that together was too much.

 

"But today was still a good day for the team. We have some guys here who are not one-day specialists, but they did a really good job. Xabi Zandio rode on the front and Alex Peters was really good today. We saw a lot of him near the front."

 

Xandio and van Poppel made their season debuts at Nokere Koerse on Wednesday and Knaven added that they have both emerged unscathed from the two days of racing.

 

"I think they have both trained well, they're in good shape, but everyone misses that little bit extra you get from racing. That's why it was important for both of them to race now, and the next race they do they will feel much better.

 

"You have to get used to racing again too. The nervousness in the peloton, all those things. Especially Xabi, he had a wrist injury, so he may have been a little afraid to crash. By racing that will go away."


Happy Kris Broeckmans finishes first race at Handzame Classic

As 145th, a joyful Kris Boeckmans reached the finish in the Handzame Classic. It was his first race since his heavy crash in the Vuelta in August last year.

 

"I was able to finish the race," the rider of Lotto-Soudal told Het Nieuwsblad. "My goal was achieved. I am even able to do more than just following which gives a great feeling. I did not really have much fear in the peloton. I could even ride on the front. I helped to keep my team in position. You cannot believe how lucky I am to be back as a rider. I also got a lot of applause. People called my name after the finish. I like it.

 

“Everything turned out well today, the pace was very high but I didn’t have any problems to follow. I tried to surround Tosh Van der Sande during the race and at the end I helped to position him at the front of the peloton so he was able to have a good position in the sprint. After that my work was done.

 

“It was very pleasant to participate in a race again. Many riders came to me during the race to ask how everything was going and many riders were happy that I was back in the peloton. I got a lot of encouragements and that made me feel very good. I really look forward to the next race because this race went so fluently.

 

“The goal is now to ride a few stages in the Tour of Catalonia, after that I’ll go training for a week in Calpe. There I’ll do some preparations for the rest of the season. It will depend of course on how everything will evolve. I’ll just start in the first stage and then we’ll see.”

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