From the start an early break consisteing of Gougeard (AG2R), Asselman (Roompot), Manakov, Boev (Gazprom), Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Kirsch (Stölting) managed to get away. At most they had about an eight minute lead but is was methodically brought down and when they reached the business end with cobbles and climbs with 90 kms to go the gap was down to four minutes.
Going through through Brakel the duo of Mike Teunissen and Jonas Rickaert launched an attack and were soon joined by Orica's Luke Durbridge and the trio ate into the advantage of the breakaway going into the cobbled climbs. With the gap roughly halved the race came to the Taaienberg where it broke up all over the road in different groups. A strong group with among others Dries Devenyns, Nicolas Maes, Scott Thwaites, Jens Keukelaire and Giaccomo Nizzolo joined the three in front and the race moved to the expected climax point of Kwaremont/Paterberg. The big climbs didn't prove as decisive though but only served to re-shuffle the lead groups a little.
Behind a larger group with sprinters like Gaviria and Theuns and most of the Lotto guys hung back with around a minute gap to the group of attackers at most. The Devenyns group looked strong for a while and seemed to be holding off the pack but lack of cohesion kept them from ever getting a decisive gap. At the Tiegemberg Lotto's Tiesj Benoot took the leap and bridged the gap to the front and this spurred another reshuffling at the front. Thwaites, Nizzolo, Vliegen, Durbridge and Maes were now in the group that became leaders on the road as they at last passed a valiantly fighting Kevin Van Melsen, the last of the original breakaway.
Approaching the final climb of the day, the Nokereberg, it was apparent that the Benoot group had too little cooperation to make it. For one Maes was sitting in there not too interested as he had Gaviria coming up from behind with Niki Terpstra. In the chase there was also Direct Energie trying to set up a sprint for Coquard. The two front groups merged and just before the Nokereberg Greg Van Avermaet saw his chance and launched a massive attack hoping to go the last 8 kms alone. Over the hill and on the false flat after he built a gap that hovered at 10-15 seconds, at one point creeping as far up as 20 seconds. It looked like the winning move as the in-form GVA powered away, holding off a peloton that was largely pulled along by Terpstra, trying to sew the race together for his Etixx team mate Fernando Gaviria.
The chase into Waregem became a thriller with the initial advantage looking to go to Van Avermaet as the chase didn't look that interested in aiding Terpstra. But even a guy on a roll as good as Van Avermaet couldn't hold on that long and as they turned onto the finishing straight he was about to get swallowed up by the chasing (small) peloton. This looked like the golden opportunity for Gaviria and it was he and the Trek riders that opened up the sprint. Slightly shocking to everyone who has seen Gaviria's sprints earlier this year he faded fast though and it was Brian Coquard who appeared in control of the sprint until a fast-moving Debusschere came up the left side managing to pip the Frenchman on the line. Had Coquard thrown his bike as well as the Lotto rider he might have had his biggest win to date but he appeared to ease up just a milli-second too soon
With this, the Lotto campaign got off to a flying start. Benoot was on the attack at the critical point and looked like the great animator. As that attempt fizzled, Lotto looked on the back foot, they had a strong presence in the chase but appeared not to do enough to give themselves the chance to contest the win. In the end tough they benefitted massively from the efforts of Etixx especially. It was actually the reverse of what we so often see. Etixx on the other hand will be less happy to see their ace Gaviria meet his limit for the first time this year. They gambled on him and it looked a good gamble until about 150 meters to go. Until then he had sat impeccably placed near the front at all the critical points, aided by teammates. Perhaps the effort of doing so took more of a toll than he could take but if nothing else this was a good teaching experience and Etixx might learn quickly from it and get it right already in Gent-Wevelgem instead.
For Jens Debusschere this was his biggest win to date next to his Belgian Championships win. The Lotto sprinter/rouleur has been knocking on the door for a while and now he got that first big win under his belt. It came in pretty much exactly his preferred way, a hard race with a bigger group coming in for a sprint in the end. In the headwind sprint today he came in perfectly avoiding the wind early and accelerating sheltered to keep his top speed high all the way to the line as others suffered out in the wind up front. He benefitted from a moment of complacency in Coquard who will be regretting that when he sees the replays. Third place went to Edward Theuns who confirms that he will be a factor in at least the slightly easier cobbled classics.
- Jens Debusschere
- Bryan Coquard
- Edward Theuns
- Filippo Pozzato
- Jens Keukelaire
- Giaccomo Nizzolo
- Oscar Gatto
- Scott Thwaites
- Mike Teunissen
- Fernando Gaviria