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In a mini version of the Tour of Flanders, Van Avermaet emerged as the strongest as he launched an impressive sprint up the Muur to distance all his rivals; Dumoulin finished second and took the overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

BENELUX TOUR

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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TEAM SUNWEB

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TOM DUMOULIN

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15.08.2014 @ 17:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took his first big win in his preferred terrain in the Flemish Ardennes when he won today’s first classics stage of the Eneco Tour. Launching a furious acceleration from the bottom of the Muur, he dropped all his rivals and put 2 seconds into a select group to take the biggest win of his career. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) made an impressive comeback to take second and took over the leader’s jersey from Lars Boom (Belkin).

 

Greg Van Avermaet is known as a perennial contender in the Flemish classics but for some reason, the victory always seems to elude the strong BMC rider. Today he finally got the win that he deserved for so long when he won stage 5 of the Eneco Tour which was like a small version of the Tour of Flanders.

 

Van Avermaet was the final step in a BMC plan that also included Philippe Gilbert, Manuel Quinziato and Silvan Dillier. They all tried to attack at different points of the course and so put their rivals under pressure.

 

Dillier made repeated attacks and spent quite a bit of time dangling a few metres ahead of the peloton. However, the Swiss never got much of an advantage but he set the scene for his teammates to make their moves.

 

Gilbert and Quinziato were both among the strongest on the penultimate passage of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and they briefly emerged in a front quartet with race leader Lars Boom and Jens Keukeleire. However, things came back together and as the peloton approached the final two climbs, Van Avermaet still hadn’t shown his cards.

 

He gave the first sign of his strength on the penultimate climb of the Denderoordberg when he launched a strong attack that put his rivals under pressure. He failed to get clear but the acceleration had clearly taken its toll on his rivals as they approached the uphill sprint on the Muur.

 

In the finale, there was little control and so Laurens De Vreese (Wanty) and Pavel Brutt (Katusha) saw an opportunity to attack. The pair hit the bottom of the climb with a nice little advantage that had forced BMC to initiate a chase, using their strength in numbers.

 

While Brutt dropped De Vreese on the lower slopes of the climb, Van Avermaet launched his acceleration right from the bottom of the climb. Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) both tried to respond but they both lost contact with the BMC rider. Van Avermaet maintained his speed all the way to the finish line and even had time to celebrate his first win of the season.

 

Tom Dumoulin had seemed to be in difficulty earlier in the stage but the Dutchman proved his strength in the uphill sprint as he made a great comeback to take second, 1 second behind Van Avermaet, while Brutt held onto a well-deserved third. Boom managed to latch onto the back of that group but as Dumoulin took 6 bonus seconds, the Giant captain takes over the leader’s jersey.

 

Dumoulin now takes a narrow 2-second lead over Boom into tomorrow’s queen stage which is like a small edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The riders will tackle no less than 16 climbs along the 173.9km course and will end the stage by doing two laps of a very tough finishing circuit. The finish line comes halfway up the famous Cote de la Redoute which means that it’s a stage for the riders who really excel in the Ardennes Classics.

 

A mini Tour of Flanders

After four days in flat terrain, the Eneco Tour went into the next phase in stage 5 where the riders tackled the first of three successive mini classics. The first of those was like a small version of the Tour of Flanders and took the riders through 162.5km in the Flemish Ardennes with a start and finish in Geraardsbergen. After a hilly first part that included several famous hellingen, the riders reached the finishing circuit that included another four hellingen, including the Bosberg and the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen. The riders would do two and a half laps and the race came to a dramatic conclusion as the finish line was located halfway up the Muur.

 

As it was already known yesterday evening, there were two non-starters when the riders left Geraardsbergen to head onto their journey through the Flemish Ardennes. Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) and Alexander Porsev (Katusha) both crashed hard in the finale of yesterday’s stage and were unable to continue the race.

 

A fast start

The remaining riders got the stage off to a dry start despite the forecasted rain. As many had expected, the start was very fast as almost all riders wanted to have a rider in the early break.

 

For a long time, lots of attacks were launched while Belkin tried to keep the situation under control and things didn’t become any easier when Lars Boom suffered an untimely puncture. Despite a headwind, the riders covered no less than 45km in the first hour and the riders had done 37 of those when the elastic finally snapped.

 

A strong break

Matteo Trentin (OPQS), Jens Debusschere (Lotto Belisol), Pablo Lastras (Movistar) and Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo) were allowed to take off and started to build a gap. After 44km of racing, they were already 2.42 ahead as the peloton allowed itself to take a small breather after the hectic start

 

The gap reached 3.55 before Debusschere was set back by a puncture. While his companions waited for him, the advantage dropped a bit but now it is again on the rise. With 91km to go, the front group was 5.38 ahead.

 

Belkin in control

While Jos Van Emden and Tom Leezer upped the pace for Belkin, Stephen Cummings (BMC) abandoned the race due to stomach problems. The increased pace caused the gap to come down and as Rovny led Debusschere and Lastras across the line in the first intermediate sprint at the top of the Tenbosse with 70km to go, the gap had come down to just 4.05.

 

Belkin continued to ride hard on the front and this put several riders in difficult as the gradual selection had now started. They briefly lost momentum when Boom suffered a puncture 60km from the line but he quickly rejoined the peloton.

 

The break splits up

The first time up the Denderoordberg which came just 5km from the finish, several riders were dropped from the peloton. Moments later, the escapees hit the Muur for the first time and the fast pace set by Trentin caused Debusschere and Rovny to drop off.

 

In the peloton, Marcus Burghardt set the pace for BMC before Marcel Sieberg took over for Lotto. Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin) took over the pace-setting and his fast tempo was enough to see the peloton splinter quite a bit.

 

Rovny is dropped

At the top, the gap was 3.10 and now the front group had found back together. As soon as they hit the Bosberg, however, Rovny was dropped and this time there was no coming back for the Russian.

 

Trentin led Lastras and Debusschere over the top to pick up the bonus seconds in the second intermediate sprint while Europcar had now taken control of the peloton. They led the peloton onto the Bosberg but the peloton rode fairly easily up the climb.

 

Belkin set the pace

Van Emden went back to work and later he got some assistance from Leezer. They again started to bring down the gap which was 2.55 with 37km to go.

 

As the escapees hit the Denderoordberg for the second time, the gap had come down to 2.40 and Leezer and Van Emden were now using their last bit of energy. They even rode so fast that they briefly got a gap a gao but things came back together.

 

Dillier attacks

Dillier launched his first attack and while Maarten Wynants and Leezer set the pace for Belkin, the Swiss dangled a few metres ahead. However, he was brought back before the riders hit the Muur for the second time while Bauke Mollema (Belkin) was one of several riders to get dropped.

 

Trentin launched a strong attack on the climb and he crested the summit as the lone leader. In the peloton, Gilbert launched his first attack and only Boom, Keukeleire and Quinziato could keep up with him.

 

Boom attacks

Boom launched a counterattack and at the top he was on his own. Keukeleire was the first to bridge the gap and later, the BMC pair also made the junction.

 

Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Marco Marcato (Cannondale), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Jean-Pierre Drucker (Wanty), Yves Lampaert (Topsport), Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert (both Lotto) made up the next group but Andriy Grivko (Astana) was the first of several riders to rejoin them. Meanwhile, Lastras had rejoined Trentin.

 

More attacks

Thomas and Wellens bridged the gap to the Boom quartet and moments later Dumoulin, Dillier and Langeveld also made the junction. The attacking started straight away with Boom, Langeveld, Keukeleire and Wellens getting a gap over the top of the Bosberg.

 

They were brought back and while the attacking continued, more riders rejoined from behind.  Langeveld, Quinziato, Thomas, De Vreese were all active but no one managed to get a gap.

 

Lastras tries his hand

Finally, Dillier launched a successful move and he opened a 10-second advantage while Belkin took control of the 35-rider peloton. Bram Tankink rode on the front to keep Dillier under control.

 

Impressively, Trentin and Lastras managed to extend their advantage from 40 seconds to 1.00 but their momentum were destroyed when Lastras attacked with 11km to go. Trentin worked hard to get back and they started to cooperate again.

 

Giant take control

With 7km to, Giant started to chase hard with Roy Curvers and at the bottom of the Dederoordberg, they had reduced the gap to 35 seconds and brought Dillier back. Reinardt Van Rensburg took over the pace-setting before Van Avermaet alunched his first attack.

 

Keukeleire managed to bridge the gap with Dumoulin, Boom, Vanmarcke, Terpstra and Gilbert on his wheel to form a select 7-rider group. The attacking continued as Vanmarcke, Boom and Keukeleire all tried their hand and with 3km to go, they caught the front duo.

 

De Vreese gets a gap

More riders rejoined from behind while De Vreese got a small gap. Brutt tried to attack twice and the second time he got clear and made it across to De Vreese.

 

After a bit of hesitation, BMC started to chase hard with Dillier and at the bottom of the Muur, they were close to the front group. Brutt dropped De Vreese but he had no response when Van Avermaet launched his acceleration and he flew past the Russian to take the victory.

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