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In the fourth stage of the Tour de Wallonie, Van Asbroeck beat Meersman in a 50-rider sprint to take the biggest win of his career; a fourth consecutive second place allowed Meersman to extend his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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SPORT VLAANDEREN - BALOISE

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TOUR DE WALLONIE 

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29.07.2014 @ 17:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Van Asbroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen) continued his excellent season by taking the biggest win of his short career when he beat race leader Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in a photo finish on the fourth stage of the Tour de Wallonie. After an aggressive race, the stage was decided in a sprint from a 50-rider group where the young Belgian emerged as the strongest while a fourth consecutive second place for Meersman allowed him to extend his overall lead.

 

With two victories in big French one-day races, Tom Van Asbroeck has had an incredible season that has heavily linked him with a move to the Cannondale team for the 2015 season. Today he again underlined that he deserves a spot on the WorldTour when he added the fourth stage of the Tour de Wallonie to his growing palmares.

 

Van Asbroeck hid in the peloton while the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team of race leader Gianni Meersman worked hard to control the many attacks on the hilly course in the Ardennes. The Lotto Belisol team were particularly aggressive and clearly tried to break their Belgian rivals’ stranglehold on the race.

 

The many attack were all fruitless and so the stage was decided in a sprint from a 50-rider group that had survived the 11 climbs that included the steep Mur d’Amay in the finale. Lotto Belisol changed tactics and started to focus on the sprint, trying to set up Tosh van der Sande for the win, and the Belgian team took control inside the final three kilometres.

 

However, it was Thor Hushovd who hit the front with his young teammate Silvan Dillier on his wheel and the Swiss could not have wished a better lead-out. Nonetheless, he was easily passed by Meersman who tried to do a long sprint in an attempt to finally take that elusive stage win after three consecutive second places.

 

Unfortunately, he had Van Asbroeck glued to his wheel and inside the final 100m, the Topsport rider tried to pass his compatriot. In a photo finish, Van Asbroeck prevailed while Meersman again finished second. Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) did a surprisingly good sprint to take third while Dillier just missed out on the bonus seconds.

 

While Van Asbroeck celebrated his win, Meersman had to console himself with the fact that he had scored another 9 bonus seconds as he won the first intermediate sprint. Hence, he extended his lead over second placed Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) to 20 seconds.

 

Meersman still faces the toughest test of the race as tomorrow’s final stage is also the queen stage. A hilly first part with six categorized climbs is followed by an exciting finale that is almost identical to the one known from Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Well-known climbs like the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons, Cote de Saint-Nicolas and Cote de Ans both feature in the finale and the only difference compared to the classic is the fact that the finish comes 4.4km after the top of the latter ascent.

 

A hilly stage

After yesterday’s first hilly stage, the Tour de Wallonie continued with another tough affair that brought the riders over 174.8km from Herve to Waremme. In the first half of the stage, the riders tackled no less than 7 climbs before a flat middle section led to the final four climbs. The final one was the famous Mur d’Amay whose top was located just 17km from the finish and from there, the riders travelled along flat roas all the way to the finish.

 

Like yesterday the riders took the start under rainy conditions. One rider was missing as Julien Berard (Ag2r) who crashed yesterday, was unable to continue the race.

 

Lots of attacks

The hilly terrain invited itself to aggressive racing and the start of the stage was extremely fast. The first rider to give it a go was Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport) but he was quickly brought back.

 

Damuen Gaudin (Ag2r) and Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) launched the next attack and they were joined by Thomas Wertz (Color Code) and Maxime Anciaux (Wallonie) to form a 4-rider front group. After 11km of racing, however, Jens Debusschere brought things back together for Lotto Belisol.

 

A sprint for bonus seconds

Just before the riders hit the first climb, Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Jelle Wallays (Topsport)and Sebastien Delfosse (Wallonie) launched an attack but they were brought back on the lower slopes. Delfosse tried again and crested the summit as the first rider, with Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r), Yves Lampaert (Topsport), Cousin and Tosh van der Sande (Lotto)  taking the minor positions.

 

Things were back together for the first intermediate sprint where race leader Gianni Meersman (OPQS) beat the BMC duo Silvan Dillier and Sebastian Lander to score another three bonus seconds. On the next climb, Cousin, Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty) and Tom Dernies (Wallonie) attacked and they were joined by Stijn Devolder (Trek) who led Cousin and Dernies over the summit.

 

The break takes off

A reshuffling took place as Devolder and Van Melsen stayed ahead while Cousin and Dernies were replaced by Anciaux and Jelle Wallyas (Topsport). The peloton finally slowed down and after 38km of racing, the quartet was 2 minutes ahead.

 

Van Melsen beat Wallays and Devolder in the sprint on the third climb and the order was the same on the fourth ascent. Van Melsen again took maximum points on the fifth climb, leading Anciaux, Wallays and Devolder across the line while Delfosse scoed the final two points on offer.

 

Fenn on the front

The gap reached a maximum of 3.30 but as Maxime Monfort led the peloton up the sixth climb, it came down a bit. Van Melsen again took maximum points in the KOM sprint, beating Anciaux, Devolder, Wallays and Jerome Gilbert (Wanty) into the minor positions. The Belgian was again first on the seventh climb, beating Anciaux and Devolder.

 

The riders had now hit the flat middle section and so the race settled into a steady rhythm. While Andrew Fenn set a steady pace on the front for OPQS, the gap was kept stable just below the 3-minute mark.

 

Gutierrez attacks

Anciaux and Wallays sprinted for the points in the second intermediate sprint where he former emerged as the strongest. Meanwhile, Fenn continued to power along on the front of the peloton but as they approached the 8th climb, the fight for position started causing the pace to go up.

 

As soon as they started to climb, Jose Ivan Gutierrez launched the first Movistar attack and he was joined by Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo). A group with Van Asbroeck, Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Belisol), Jasper Stuyven (Trek) and Laurent Evrard (Wallonie) bridged the gap shortly after the top but this group was too dangerous for OPQS who shut it down. Again Van Melsen scored maximum points on the climb.

 

Sanz takes off

The gap to the front group was now down to just 45 seconds and Enrique Sanz was the next Movistar rider to attack. This time there was no response from OPQS and the Spaniard had a solid gap when he hit the 9th climb.

 

Gutierrez attacked again and bridged the gap to his teammate while Devolder attacked in the front group. Van Melsen and Wallays rejoined him but Anciaux dropped back to the Movistar duo.

 

Devolder drops his companions

Van Melsen took maximum points on the top while bad luck stroke for Sanz who punctured out of the chase group. Just after the top, Devolder attacked again and this time he got a solid gap.

 

Devolder managed to extend his advantage from 35 seconds to 1.15 while Fenn and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck set the pace for OPQS in the peloton. Impressively, Van Melsen and Wallays managed to rejoin the Trek rider while Anciaux and Gutierrez were 30 seconds behind.

 

Lots of attacks

On the penultimate climb, Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) attacked and he was joined by Vegard Stake Laengen (Bretagne) and Thomas Degand (Wallonie). The trio bridged the gap to the Gutierrez duo and then Degand launched an immediate attack to which only Anciaux could respond.

 

While Edward Beltran (Tinkoff-Saxo) joined the chase group, Anciaux fell off the pace and back to the chase group. Van Melsen dropped back to assist his teammate and with 30km to go, the junction was made.

 

Wellens attacks on the Mur

As the chase group was about to be brought back, Laengen gave it another go but the Norwegian was brought back moments later. With 26km to go, it was over for the front group too as Lotto Belisol had now taken control.

 

Jens Debusschere set a furious pace with his 6 teammates on his wheel while the remaining riders fought hard for position in their wake. As soon as they hit the Mur d’Amay, Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) launched an attack.

 

Ligthart makes a strong attack

The Belgian was joined by Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) and Silvan Dillier (BMC) and later Pieter Serry (OPQS), Maxime Monfort (Lotto Belisol), Christopher Juul (Tinkoff-Saxo), Kuznetsov and Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) also joined the move.

 

Stybar, Serry, Wellens, Monfort, Kuznetsov and Kochetkov continued but soon after a bigger group caught them from behind. As they crested the summit, Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol) launched an attack and he was joined by Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) and Kochetkov.

 

OPQS in control

The trio managed to build a 10-second gap while Stybar started to chase. As a regrouping took place, Serry and Wout Poels took over the pace-setting for OPQS and later Julian Alaphilippe joined the pair.

 

Ligthart beat Kochetkov the intermediate sprint while Pablo Lastras (Movistar) made a late attack to pass Fedrigo just before the line. With the sprint out of the way, there was no reason to stay ahead and the escapees all dropped back to the peloton.

 

Van Hoecke takes off

Wellens made another attack but decided to sit up. Beltran, Monfort, Dider, Degand, Alaphilippe and Seabastien Delfosse (Wallonie) were all part of a small group that was formed after an attack from the Colombian but like the subsequent attack from Yoann Offredo and Fedrigo, it was brought back.

 

Serry, Alaphilippe and Poels set a hard pace but didn’t react when Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport) attacked 8km from the finish. Boris Dron (Wallonie) set off in pursuit but never made the junction.

 

Lotto Belisol take control

Van Hoecke did a good job to stay ahead for a long time while Poels and Serry led the chase. With 3km to go, Florent Delfosse (Color Code) bridged the gap but moments later, it was all back together.

 

Lotto Belisol hit the front to set up Tosh van der Sande for the sprint, with Maxime Monfort taking a massive turn. He got some assistance from Serry before Ligthart took over.

 

Stybar led the peloton under the flamme rouge but as they approached the finish, Hushovd made his lead-out. It wasn’t to be for the BMC team as the stage came down to an exciting duel between Van Asbroeck and Meersman.

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