In standard Flanders weather of miserable rain and intermittent glimpses of sun we saw a typical exciting cobbled classic. High pace and lots of crashes on narrow and slick roads characterized the racing in the first 100 kms. No big breakaway was ever allowed to get away instead we saw some tentative attacking groups and chases as the race entered the second hilly part of the race.
The real action started as Jelle Wallays attacked on his own on the Eikenberg, a move that seemed doomed to fail but there was little cohesion behind. On the Taaienberg shortly after there didn't seem to be much aggression but over the top Kwiatkowski marked by Theuns and Dylan van Baarle eased away from the rest of a pack that was splintering into several pieces behind. The three connected and formed a group with Wallays about half a minut ahead of the nearest chasing group, thus leaving Topsport Vlaanderen with a numerical advantage with Wallays and Theuns.
As groups merged and reformed behind as the race rolled towards the Oude Kwaremont the gap slipped out to roughly a minute by the time they hit the biggest climb of the day. The World Champ led they way up Kwaremont and the gap held steady but for Lars Boom who got away from the "peloton" to close in on the four in front. A slippery downhill turn near the foot of the Paterberg just after became his undoing though and his day ended by the side f the road where he was joined in crashing by the camera-moto following him. Stein Devolder made the same mistakes seconds after and looked to be the one worst off even if he managed to get on his bike and finish the race later.
Up front the leaders stayed together over the steep Paterberg and that set up a long chase vs. attackers duel in the final 35 kms.
With the gap only at just around a minute and with a big chasegroup with names like Burghard,Breschel, Amador,Debusschere, Maes, van Keirsbulck, Gatto and a couple of Katusha riders it looked like an even battle but one the four felt likely to lose in the end. Cooperation wasn't optimal behind though with Lotto's young Tiesj Benoot forced to do the lion's share of the work for his captain Debusschere. The gap kept hovering at about 45 seconds as the kid Benoot worked like a beast pretty much alone. Eventually Debusschere had to do work himself and that spurred guys like Burghard and Breschel to stick their nose on the front for a bit as well without it having any major impact on the gap to the leaders. With 10 kilometers to go it appeared clear that the four would contest the sprint. Wallays had been the Topsport rider who worked most together with Kwiatkowski while van Baarle looked struggling at the back for much of the time after the Paterberg.
Playing their numerical advantage to perfection Wallays launched a hard attack on the left hand side, immediately getting a decent sized gap. Kwiatkowski was forced to chase with Theuns, the better sprinter of the two Topsport riders, on his wheel. He didn't have the legs to catch Wallays though and van Baarle had little to contribute either. Instead the two had to see themselves outsprinted by a wildly cheering Theuns as he completed the popular double victory for the home team. Wallays won the Paris-Tours last year in similarly impressive style but a win in one of the major Flemish races has to rank highest in his career to date. Behind in the chase, the man of the day Tiesj Benoot managed to find some last miraculous power to finish an impressive sixth on the day. All in all a huge day for the future stars of Belgian cycling showing quite clearly that there are plenty of able successors to the crown the day Tom Boonen decides to hang his bike up on the wall.
|3.||TCG||Dylan van Baarle||s.t|
|5.||EQS||Guillaume Van Keirsbulck||+1.20|