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The Estonian takes a hugely surprising win as he beats noted time trialists Le Bon, Vandewalle, and Devolder into the minor position on the opening day of the Three Days of West-Flanders

Photo: Feltet.dk

DRIEDAAGSE VAN WEST-VLAANDEREN

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GERT JOEAAR

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JOHAN LE BON

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KRISTOF VANDEWALLE

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07.03.2014 @ 17:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Gert Joeaar (Cofidis) took a hugely surprising win in today's opening prologue of the Three Days of West-Flanders when the Estonian sensation beat Johan Le Bon (FDJ) and Belgian champion and defending champion Kristof Vandewalle (Trek) into the minor podium spots. The Estonian powered through the flat 7km out-and-back course in Middelkerke in a time of 7.53 to put a comfortable 5 seconds into Le Bon and become the first leader of the 3-day race.

 

Prior to the opening prologue of the Three Days of West-Flanders, all talk was about many of the great time trial specialists in attendance. Belgian champion and defending champion Kristof Vandewalle, his Trek teammates Jesse Sergent and Stijn Devolder, NetApp-Endura's Jan Barta and almost the entire Omega Pharma-Quick Step team were tipped as potential winners.

 

Nobody had mentioned the name of Gert Joeaar but when the dust had settled after the short, fast race on the flat out-and-back 7km course along the coast in Middelkerke, it was the Cofidis rider who had come away with the win. The Estonian had covered the distance in an impressive 7.53 to put 5 seconds into Le Bon, with Vandewalle following in 3rd 3 seconds further adrift.

 

Joeaar was the final Cofidis rider down the ramp and based on the generally excellent performances from his teammates, there was maybe some kind of a hint that a surprise could be in store. When he crossed the line, he had beaten previous leader Stijn Devolder by 11 seconds and now faced a nervous wait in the hot seat.

 

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Le Bon, Chad Haga (Giant-Shimano), Boris Vallee (Lotto Belisol), Dylan van Baarle (Garmin-Sharp), Silvan Dillier (BMC), Julien Vermote (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Vandewalle all failed to beat the time set by Joeaar and even though both Le Bon and Vandewalle were faster than Devolder, Joeaar took a comfortable win. It was the first victory for Cofidis in 2014 and also gave him the first leader's jersey in the race.

 

Joeaar will now take his lead into tomorrow's first stage of the race. The 183km stage heads from Brugge to Harelbeke and covers some real classics terrain as the riders will climb the Oude Kwaremont and the Tiegemberg at the midpoint. The race ends, however, with laps on a flat finishing circuit and unless the wind wreaks havoc on the peloton, the race is expected to be decided in a bunch sprint.

 

A flat prologue

As it has mostly been the case, the Three Days of West-Flanders kicked off with a flat 7km prologue in Middelkerke. The course was a simple out-and-back route along the coast and it was expected to suit the real specialists who could produce lots of power on the long straight road.

 

The first rider down the ramp was Riccardo Stacchiotti (Vini Fanini Nippo) who set a time of 8.34 but he was quickly beaten by Tino Thömel (Stuttgart). The young German got some time in the hot seat until the first riders from the major teams started to arrive.

 

Laporte sets a good time

Christope Laporte kicked off Cofidis' great day when he set a time of 8.13 that was 11 seconds faster than Thömel's. He held off a good time from Sebastien Rosseler (Veranclassic) and from Rick Zabel (BMC) who moved into the provisional 2nd.

 

At this point, not many riders got into the provisional and Laporte could start to hope that his time would have a chance of standing for a long time. The first big threat came from Martin Kohler (BMC) but his time was to seconds slower than Laporte's.

 

De Gendt shows his cards

Less than a minute later, Laporte was finally beaten when a resurgent Thomas De Gendt (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) lowered the mark by 3 seconds. The Belgian spent a long time as the provisional leader but got a scare when another Cofidis youngster, Florian Senechal, impressed with a time that was just 1 second slower De Gendt's.

 

Gediminas Bagdonas (Ag2r) had a solid ride to make it into the top 10 while Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) excelled in his first race back from injury by setting a time that was good enough for the provisional 5th. The first big test for De Gendt, however, was expected to come from Sergent.

 

Sergent with the best time

The Trek rider proved his talent when he finished in a time that was 3 seconds faster than De Gendt's and no one got even close to it until Jan Ghyselinck (Wanty) finished in a time that was just 1 second too slow. Romain Lemarchand was the next Cofidis rider to do well but now all eyes were on his Devolder who hit the course as the next Trek rider.

 

The Belgian road race champion proved his return to form when he beat Sergent by 4 seconds and he now faced a long wait. Jeremy Roy (FDJ) had a disappointing ride to move into the provisional 11th and the first real challenge was Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) who was 5 seconds too slow,

 

Barta fails to take the lead

The final wave of riders had now started and the first big test of Devolder came from Barta. However, the Estonian could only manage 8.10 and so missed 6 seconds.

 

Three minutes later, people were surprised when Joeaar crossed the line in a time that was a massive 11 seconds faster than Devolder. Many still expected the big favourites to come to beat the Estonian but as neither Le Bon not Vandewalle could anything against the Estonian, Cofidis took their first win of the season in surprising fashion.

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