The hilly finishing circuit of this, the transition race between cobbles and Ardennes is always good for an exciting finish and today didn't disappoint as we got a classic attack vs. chase duel that ultimately saw one of the attackers walk away with the victory, no thanks to his teammates.
The early breakaway of the day was Thomas De Gendt(Lotto), Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne) and Alex Kirsch(Cult). The three got just over four minutes at most on the peloton and by the time they got onto the finishing laps it was down to two and a half. Kirsch was unable to follow the other two as De Gendt stated pushing the pace on the climbs. As Orica was controlling the peloton and reeling in the break a counter attack with Ben Hermans and David Tanner went after the original break was caught. Moving up their gap to 30 seconds at the start of the last lap they also got chased by a strong group of four. Leukmans, Dilier, Vermote and Voss tried to bridge the gap and stay ahead of the peloton where the chase wasn't very concerted though and a string of attackers could join the chase. This was followed by a succession of regroupments and new attacks in a peloton where no one could or wanted to control events.
The gap to the two leaders stayed pretty stabile at 25.-30 seconds throughout much of this in the entire final lap. Many tried from behind but an ever-thinning peloton kept reconnecting with the front to create new chase groups. Up front it was clear that Hermans had to do the majority of the pacemaking as Tanner was tiring. With just a few kilometers to go, when the gap had dwindled down to 15-20 sec, Hermans decided that enough was enough and he forced the pace, dropping Tanner in the process. Almost simultaneously his teammate (and team leader) Gilbert oddly decided it was time to attack as well. In doing so he initially got a gap but ultimately got a strong group of passengers with Etixx's Alaphillippe counterattacking and, among others, race favorite Michael Matthews latching on and getting a "free" ride to the front. The chase was frantic on the final uphill bits in the finale and the outcome looked very uncertain.
In the end though Herman's was strong enough and had enough power left to keep pushing on the last bit of uphill/false flat and he finished just ahead of a hard charging Matthews who had no trouble disposing of Gilbert in the sprint. It turned out a triumph for BMC with first and third places on the podium but had Herman's been just a tiny bit more exhausted it could have easily ended in disaster and then Gilbert would have had a lot of apologizing to do. Although a chase might have been sparked either way it was most definitely him that lit the fuse that made the race explode on the final climb and he was lucky it didn't cost them seeing as his attack wasn't decisive enough to drop the supersprinter in the group, Matthews. It was a dangerous , and not entirely clever, move by the BMC captain obviously hungry for a win of his own.
This was most definitely Herman's biggest victory to date even if he has had some strong showings in the Ardennes before, both on Radioshack and BMC. Overall BMC showed that they are bringing a strong group to the Ardennes this year and that promises well for Gilbert &Co in the weeks to come. Teams like Cannondale-Garmin, Roompot and CCC also look like they are on the up now that the terrain is turning more in their favor.
|2.||OGE||Michael Matthews||+2 sec|
|3.||BMC||Philippe Gilbert||+2 sec|
|4.||LTS||Tony Gallopin||+2 sec|
|5.||CCC||Davide Rebellin||+2 sec|
|6.||TCG||Nathan Haas||+2 sec|
|7.||TFR||Fabio Felline||+2 sec|
|8.||ROO||Maurits Lammertink||+2 sec|
|9.||CCC||Maciej Paterski||+2 sec|
|10.||IAM||Dries Devenyns||+2 sec|