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Having made it into a 5-rider group on the penultimate climb, Vakoc made a powerful acceleration on the final climb of Schavei, dropping his companions and riding to a solo win at Brabantse Pijl; Gasparotto and Gallopin completed the podium

Photo: Etixx-QuickStep / Tim De Waele

BRABANTSE PIJL

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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ENRICO GASPAROTTO

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PETR VAKOC

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TONY GALLOPIN

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13.04.2016 @ 18:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) continued his amazing breakthrough season by claiming a solo win in the first of the hilly classics, Brabantse Pijl. The Czech was attentive to make it into a five-rider group that went clear on the penultimate climb with five kilometres to go and after Julian Alaphilippe had emptied himself for his teammate, he went solo on the Schavei climb inside the final kilometre, distancing Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) who had to settle for the minor spots on the podium.

 

In 2014, neo-pro Petr Vakoc surprised the entire cycling world by riding to a solo win on a stage of the Tour de Pologne. Even though he later disappeared from the spotlight, that win proved what a huge potential the Czech youngster had.

 

As it is so often the case, the first grand tour makes a massive difference for every young rider and it was last year’s Giro d’Italia that made Vakoc competitive in the harder races. Last autumn he confirmed his potential by winning the Czech Cycling Tour overall and claiming an impressive solo win on a brutally hard stage at the Tour of Britain.

 

However, it is the 2016 season that has been Vakoc’ true breakthrough. He has been flying since February when he rode to victory in the hilly one-day races Classic Sud-Ardeche and Drome Classic and he went on to take a fifth place at Strade Bianche. Already back then he made it clear that his real goal was the Ardennes classics and today he proved that he is ready for the big races as he took his first classics win in the big dress rehearsal at Brabantse Pijl.

 

Vakoc had stayed calm in the bunch throughout the entire race as his teammates Pieter Serry, Gianni Meersman and Julian Alaphilippe did an excellent job by covering all the attacks. The hard chase wore down the Orica-GreenEDGE team of pre-race favourite Michael Matthews and the teams of sprinters Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) who barely had any teammates left when the 40-rider peloton hit the penultimate climb of IJskelderlaan with 5km to go.

 

Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18) won the battle for position and led his team captain Paul Voss onto the climb. The German set a modest pace from the bottom until Tim Wellens who had been in a previous attack, tried to set his Lotto Soudal leader Tony Gallopin up for a move.

 

When Wellens swung off, Voss took over with Gallopin, Enrico Gasparotto and Alaphilippe on his wheel but it was the counterattack from David Tanner (IAM) that made the difference. The Australian crested the summit with a small advantage over Gallopin, Gasparotto, Alaphilippe and Vakoc and it was the Frenchman who closed the gap to gather a quintet on the front as they reached the bottom of the descent. Voss was in lone pursuit, but he never got back.

 

As they reached the bottom, Alaphilippe realized the situation and he went straight to the front to up the pace. Further back, the peloton had been whittled down to just around 15 riders and this left Matthews, Colbrelli and Coquard isolated. Maciej Paterski desperately tried to chase for his leaders Simone Ponzi and Davide Rebellin but the gap had gone out to 8 seconds with 2km to go and from there it only got bigger.

 

Alaphilippe led the group onto the climb after having emptied himself completely and when he swung off, Vakoc made his move. Tanner and Alaphilippe fell off while Gallopin had to dig very deep to stay on his wheel.

 

Finally, Gallopin had to surrender and Gasparotto realized it too late. When the Italian passed the fading Frenchman, Vakoc was already gone and as he didn’t fade, the Czech increased his lead all the way to the top. He took the final turn with 200m to go with a big advantage and had plenty of time to celebrate the biggest one-day win of his career. Gasparotto crossed the line in second and Gallopin held on to take third while Coquard narrowly edged Matthews and Gallopin out in a very close sprint for fourth.

 

With the win, Vakoc now positions himself as an outsider for the Ardennes classics which will kick off in the Netherlands on Sunday at the Amstel Gold Race. The first of the Belgian classics is Fleche Wallonne next Wednesday and then it all culminates at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 24.

 

A hilly circuit

The 56th edition of Brabantse Pijl was held on a 203km course that brought the riders from Leuven to Overijse. After a flat start, the climbing slowly started and the riders had already covered 7 climbs by the time they reached the 23.4km finishing circuit. Having done almost a full lap with 3 climbs, they ended the race by doing three laps of the circuit which included five climbs. The final challenge was the Schavei whose summit came just 200m from the line from where it was a false flat to the finish.

 

Sunny weather greeted the riders as they gathered for the start of Leuven where one rider from the start list was absent. Nicolas Lefrancois (Novo Nordisk) didn’t turn up and it was only 195 riders who embarked on the first of the hilly classics.

 

An aggressive start

The flag had barely been dropped before Josef Cerny (CCC) and Andrea Dal Col (South East) had launched the first attack and Gilbert Ducourneau (Southeast) had abandoned but the first move had no success. Hence, it became an aggressive start with lots of attacks.

 

After 12km of racing, Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin), Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18), Yanto Barker (ONE), Martijn Verschoor (Novo Nordisk) and Giacomo Tomio (Roth) managed to build an advantage of 12 seconds. Jens Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) tried to join the move but instead it was Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) who made the junction two kilometers later. The gap grew to 18 seconds, but after the 16km of racing, it was back together.

 

Four riders get clear

The attacks continued until Oliver Zaugg (IAM), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18), Sergey Nikolaev (Gazprom-RusVelo) and Alberto Cecchin (Roth) had a lead of 20 seconds after 24km of racing. While Liam Bertazzo (South East) tried to join the move, the peloton took a breather. At one point, Bertazzo was only 9 seconds behind, but he exploded completely. After 30km of racinghe was 42 seconds behind while the peloton had already lost 2.22.

 

Bertazzo gave up and was swallowed up by the peloton after 38km of racing when the gap had gone out to 5 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Orica-GreenEDGE took control as King Lok Cheung and Damien Howson hit the front for the Australians. They allowed the gap to go out to a maximum of 5.30 after 53 km before slowly increasing the pace and keeping  the lead around 5 minutes. There was no stress, and therefore defending champion Ben Hermans (BMC) had no trouble getting back to the peloton after a puncture. At the same time, it started to rain.

 

Lotto Soudal come to the fore

With 120km to go, Lotto Soudal showed their ambitions with Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens. Thomas De Gendt started to chase with Orica-GreenEdge. At that point, the gap was 4.50.

 

De Gendt suddenly increased the pace dramatically and when the peloton entered the final 100km, the gap was down to 3.10. Things again calmed down a bit as De Gendt and Howson started to trade pulls.

 

The attacking starts

With 90km to go, the riders hit the finishing circuit with an advantage of 2.35 and the fight for position was slowly starting in the peloton. Meanwhile, Nikolaev suffered as they went up Hertstraat for the first time but he managed to stay with the leaders.

 

As the peloton hit the climb, Lotto Soudal played their first card as Pim Ligthart took off. He was joined by Timmer and Rayane Bouhanni (Cofidis) but the trio failed to get clear. Sander Armee was the next to try and Timmer and Bouhanni were again attentive but again the attempt failed.

 

De Bie and Serry make a strong move

Christian Meier and Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE) tried to take control and calm things down and they didn’t react when Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) took off. While the Belgian slowly increased his advantage, the pair kept the gap at around 1.30 after the first attacks had reduced it significantly.

 

Howson came back to the fore and slowly reeled Helven in as they hit the IJskelderlaan for the first time. Here Martin Mortensen (ONE) launched a strong attack and again Orica-GreenEDGE didn’t react. That changed when Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) and Christian Mager (Stölting accelerated and quickly bridged across to the Dane. Marco Minnaard (Wanty) and Josef Cerny (CCC) almost made the junction but they exploded as they went up the Schavei for the first time. Here Mager lost contact with the chase group.

 

BMC kick into action

At the first passage of the line, the four chasers had almost caught the four leaders and just moments later an octet had gathered. Ligthart, Meier and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale) tried to attack on the finishing straight but Orica-GreenEDGE shut it down.

 

As they hit the Hagaard climb, Dylan Teuns (BMC) attacked with Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) glued to his wheel. Angelo Tulik (Direct Energie) and Loic Vliegen (BMC) joined the move and after they had passed Mager, they picked up Cerny and Minnaard who got dropped as they hit the next climb.

 

The front group splits up

Nikolaev was dropped from the front group and fell back to Vliegen, Teuns, van der Sande and Tulik. It didn’t take long for the group to split further as De Bie, Serry and Impey dropped the rest of the group which was picked up by the chasers. Meanwhile, former winner Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) had to work hard to rejoin the peloton after a puncture.

 

With 60km to go, the gaps were 30 seconds and 1.00 respectively and Vliegen realized that something had to be done. The Belgian went full gas on the next climb and with van der Sande and Tulik on his wheel, he bridged the gap to the leaders. Teuns, Mortensen and Buchmann formed a chase group 15 seconds behind while the rest of the attackers were brought back.

 

The chasers make the junction

After CCC had briefly started to chase, Orica-GreenEDGE again came to the fore with Howson. They kept the gap at around 1.20 while the chase trio desperately tried to close the small gap to the leaders.

 

With 50km to go, Vliegen, Mortensen and Buchmann made the junction as they went up the Ijskelderlaan for the second time. Meanwhile, the attacking started in the peloton as Nicola Boem (Bardiani) created a small group with the likes of Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal). Gasparotto tried to keep the move alive but it failed. However, it had an effect as both Howson and Hayman were dropped. Meanwhile, two of the favourites, Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) and Silvan Dillier (BMC) both suffered mechanicals.

 

Lots of attacks

Boem and Maciej Paterski (CCC) tried again but instead it was Gasparotto who surged clear on the finishing straight as they started the second lap. He crossed the line 45 seconds behind the leaders, with the peloton hot on his heels.

 

The Lotto Soudal pair of Tony Gallopin and Jelle Vanendert and riders from Bardiani and Roompot joined Gasparotto but as the Lotto riders refused to work, the move was neutralized. Instead, a Wanty rider surged clear but as Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) joined the move, Wellens shut it down for Lotto Soudal. Dumoulin, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sondre Holst Enger (IAM) were all active but as Wellens covered everything, it was impossible to get clear.

 

Cannondale start to chase

With 40km to go, the gap was down to just 25 seconds and a long day on the attack was now taking its toll for Buchmann who was dropped from the front group.  He was quickly picked up by Berden De Vries (Roompot) and Enger who used a moment of calmness to surge clear from the peloton. Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin) bridged the gap but just as he has mad the junction, the group was brought back as Bardiani and mainly Cannondale had started to chase.

 

Alberto Bettiol, Tom Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) and David Tanner (IAM) attacked on the next climb and picked up Mortensen, Teuns, De Bie and Mortensen who had been dropped from the front group. Van der Sande was the next to surrender and even though the rest of the peloton had latched onto the back of his group, Bettiol continued to ride hard just a few seconds behind Serry, Impey and Vliegen.

 

The break is caught

With 31km to go, the front trio was caught and after Bettiol had tried a brief attack that also included the likes of van de Sande, Gasparotto, Vakoc, Fabian Wegmann (Stölting) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Orica-GreenEDGE took control with Impey and Jack Haig.

 

Impey led Matthews onto the IJskelderlaan where Wellens launched a strong solo attack. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) joined him on the descent and as the pair built a 15-second advantage, Thomas Voeckler started to chase for Direct Energie, trying to set Bryan Coquard up for a sprint.

 

Wellens and Alaphilippe look strong

Alaphilippe and Wellens pushed the gap out to 20 seconds as they went up Schavei for the penultimate time while Impey and Voeckler chased hard in the peloton. Voeckler led the group over the line at the start of the final lap, 16 seconds behind the leaders.

 

Voeckler swung off and left it to Impey to try to close the gap who brought the gap down to 10 seconds as they hit Hagaard. Here Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) took off and as he was now isolated, Michael Matthews followed the move.

 

Matthews is isolated

It didn’t work out for the pair and when David Tanner (IAM)had briefly tried, Pieter Weening (Roompot), Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) tried. They had no luck either and as the pace went down, Impey rejoined the peloton and went straight to the front.

 

Alaphilippe tried to drop Wellens on the Hertstraat but the duo stayed together. Meanwhile, Impey swung off and as the pace went down, the isolated leaders started to attack each other. Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) was the first to try before Matthews tried himself.

 

The chase gets organized

Romain Sicard finally started to chase for Direct Energie and an impressive Impey even returned from the rear end to continued his chase effort. The work got more organized as Bardiani, Nathan Brown (Cannondale), Sicard, Impey and Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) joined forces but they could only keep the gap at 15 seconds.

 

Suddenly, the balance tipped and as they hit the Holstheide climb with 11km to go, it was all back together. Bardiani tried to keep the pace high but he was unable to respond when Pieter Weening (Roompot) took off.

 

Weening sits up

Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) tried to bridge across before Lotto Soudal started to chase with Tosh van der Sande. Stephane Rossetto joined the Belgian but the pair were stuck 10 second behind Weening.

 

Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) was the next rider to join the chasers but behind, the chase had again got organized, with Pantano (IAM), Bardiani and van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) working hard. They brought the three chasers back with 7km to go.

 

Giulio Ciccone took a huge turn for Bardiani before Lotto Soudal took over with Sander Armee. Maciej Paterski came to the fore for BMC and he brought Weening back with 6km to go. From there, it was a big fight for position until Huzarski led the group onto IJskelderlaan where the winning move was launched.

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