Dwars door Vlaanderen review: Gatto by a whisker

Dwars door Vlaanderen logoOscar Gatto timed his finish to perfection, sprinting past a tiring Thomas Voeckler and taking him just metres before the line in Waregem. Slovenian Borut Bozic and Aussie Mattew Hayman were second and third as a devastated Voeckler faded to fifth.

While not quite as thrilling as Sunday’s epic Milan-San Remo, it did reinforce the ambitions of a number of teams and riders. And it’s yet another race won by a ProConti team: Kitty’s beloved glow sticks, Vini Fantini. I thought it appropriate that, despite the cold and wet weather, the Italian victor was wearing just a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. I wonder if the spectators were chanting “Are you Belgian in disguise?”

2013 podium l to right Bozic, Gatto, Hayman (image courtesy of Sky)

2013 podium (l to r) Bozic, Gatto, Hayman (image courtesy of Sky)

Race summary

Dwars door Vlaanderen is a race of two halves: the first one flat, the second hilly and cobbled. It’s one of the warm-up events – a semi-Classic – for the forthcoming cobbled Belgian Classics. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was back wearing the number one bib and with plenty of firepower on his team to help defend his title.  Not so a number of other one-day specialists who, still suffering from the exigencies of Milan-San Remo, had opted out of competing in the cold, wet conditions so typical in Belgium at this time of year.


Probably in an effort to keep warm, the attacks came thick and fast in the opening kilometres of the race. Initially 13 riders, all from different teams, made the initial break but the peloton was in no mood to let anyone off the leash. A number of those riders persisted and eventually a group of 14 slipped the reins on the Nieuw Kwaremont.

Cofidis’ Romain Zingle led solo over the Berendries, then a group from the original break including Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM) and Mathew Hayman (Sky) – bridged, steadily buiulding an advantage of around 90 seconds with 70km left to ride. With no one taking control of the bunch and its pace disrupted by a number of minor crashes, a couple of counter-attacking salvos were fired, largely by Europcar.

Steegmans launched what he hoped would be the decisive attack on the Steenbeekdries. Hayman and then Saramotins joined him. The leading threesome were still about a minute up the road as the peloton approached the Knoteberg for the second time.

Hayman took a flyer from the leading trio and built a small advantage on to the Oude Kwaremount with 25km to go. Behind him, Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), showing no after-effects from his endeavours at the weekend, had launched an attack from the chasing bunch and was followed by a group including Gatto, Borut Bozic (Astana), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS), Ian ‘Hard as Nails’ Stannard (Sky) – another protagonist from Sunday – and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE). Vandenbergh took charge of the pace-setting only to end up pursuing Hayman on his own as riders were shelled out the back of this chasing group.

With teammate Hayman up front, Stannard initially tried to block the chase but finally led the small chasing pack in pursuit of the leading duo who were soon to be joined firstly by Gatto, then the remaining seven riders making it a ten-man leading pack with 14km still to race and only a 30-second advantage over the peloton.

After the final climb, the Nokereberg, both Keukeleire and Stannard tried unsuccessfully to distance the others. Finally, Voeckler launched one of his trademark attacks amid much face-pulling and he managed to gain just under 20 seconds on the hotly pursuing nine-man pack with only 3km on the flat remaining. Was Tommy home and dry? Vandenbergh and Stannard had other ideas. They slowly whittled away at his lead, providing Gatto, Bozic and Hayman with the perfect launchpad in the dying metres.

After the race, the victor Gatto admitted:

Coming into the last kilometre, I thought Voeckler would make it, to be honest. I took Stannard’s wheel because I had seen how strong he was at Milan-San Remo on Sunday. He went to the front inside the final kilometre which meant that I had to launch my sprint from a long way out.

While a disappointed Voeckler explained:

I started getting cramps in the last 100 metres. I thought I was going to make it, but I could see Stannard pulling in the last kilometre. It’s a pity but that’s racing.

Indeed it is, Tommy!

Analysis & opinion

This is typically one of those races where a rider who’ll be expected to ride in support of his team leader in the upcoming Classics is given an opportunity to ride for himself. Coming so close after an epic Milan-San Remo, and also held in inclement conditions, is it any wonder that the hard men of the peloton prevailed? While it was something of a war of attrition, the podium did feature a rider (Hayman) who had been in the break for most of the day. The other two had remained alert to the possibilities and joined what was to prove the decisive break engineered by Iglinskiy. Many of those who animated the race also figured prominently at the weekend and one would have to conclude they’re in fine form for the forthcoming challenges. Bring on more of those cobbles!

Decisive attack led by Maxim Iglinskiy, look out for him in forthcoming races (image courtesy of Astana)

Decisive attack led by Maxim Iglinskiy. Look out for him in forthcoming races (image courtesy of Astana)


1. Oscar Gatto (Vini-Fantini) 4:43:22

2. Borut Bozic (Astana) same time

3. Mathew Hayman (Sky) s/t

4. Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t

6. Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

7. Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t

8. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) s/t

9. Ian Stannard (Sky) +0:05

10. Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:12

Link: Official website

Talking Tactics: Good tactics, bad tactics at Milan-San Remo

Sunday’s Milan-San Remo will go down as one of its most memorable editions, with the parcours shortened by snow, the riders frozen by the cold and tactics turned on their head. Team management were no doubt frantically tearing up their strategies and improvising new ones during the race stoppage. But who got it right and who missed out on a golden opportunity? Continue reading

A pictorial birthday tribute to Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga

Birthday boy (image courtesy of Movistar)

Image courtesy of Movistar

Zorionak (Basque: happy birthday) Beñat!

Like many Basque riders, Beñat starting riding and competing at a young age so, in honour of his 27th birthday, we’re going to take a pictorial scroll through the jerseys he’s worn and some of the races he’s won.

Say cyclocross and everyone thinks of Belgium, but the Basques have plenty of races during the winter months and many riders have started their careers competing in the mud. Beñat was no exception. Inspired by his uncle, a keen amateur, to take up cycling, here he is competing for Iberdrola, in a local competition, as a cadet having chosen cycling as his main hobby over football.

Beñat in 2002 competing in Ziklokoss Itsasondo

Beñat in 2002 competing in Ziklokross Itsasondo

Beñat achieved success early on, no mean feat in the competitive environment of Basque cycling. Indeed he was rarely off the podium.

Beñat wins Zyklokross Idiazabel in 2003

Beñat wins Ziklokross Idiazabel in 2003

In 2004 Beñat turned his attention to the road and continued his winning form: 12 podiums.

Beñat  wins while racing for Umpro Bizkargi

Beñat wins while racing for Umpro Bizkargi

Beñat and his team who won the Trofeo Lehendakari

Beñat, far right, winner of  the Trofeo Lehendakari

In 2005, Beñat joined Seguros Bilbao and won the Trofeo Lehendakari (given to the best amateur cyclist aged 19-20 in the Basque-Navarre area), was runner-up in the under-23 Trofeo and graced the podium on no fewer than 11 occasions.

Beñat wearing the leader's jersey at Vuelta Bidasoa

Beñat wearing the leader’s jersey at Vuelta Bidasoa

The wins came thick and fast in 2006, with victories in the Vuelta Bidasoa, Beasain, Basque under-23 Championship and Vizcayan under-23 time trial championship, plus a number of  top ten placings in prestigious European under-23 races. As a consequence, he was selected to represent Spain in the under-23 World Championships in Salzburg. These performances saw him join Nicolas Mateos in 2007, the feeder team of WorldTour squad Saunier Duval. Promising results in races forming part of the UCI’s under-23 Nations Cup allowed him make the final step up at the start of 2008.

Beñat makes the leap up to a Continental feeder squad

Beñat becomes a neo-pro with Saunier Duval

As befits a neo-pro, Beñat participated in the shorter stage races starting with the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, where he finished second, followed by his debut in Pars-Nice. Thereafter, he took part in a number of races in the Basque country, some of the Ardennes Classics and the Tour of Poland, riding largely in support of his teammates.

Beñat in Saunier's new colours for 2009

Beñat in Saunier’s new colours for 2009

Renamed Fuji-Servetto for 2009, the team managed to retain its ProTour license albeit with a smaller budget and team. As a consequence, more was expected from Beñat who unfortunately broke his right collarbone in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, preventing him from taking part in one of his season’s main objectives, his home tour, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Further mishaps throughout the season saw him miss out on a number of potential wins. Although under contract for the following season, he was spared the indignity of the nude/black Footon-Servetto kit when Euskaltel-Euskadi came to the rescue with a one-year contract. They were delighted to have him on board, having tried to sign him some years earlier.

Beñat wins stage 6 Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2010

Beñat wins stage 6 Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2010

Already integrated into his new team during the winter months, Beñat started the season well with a tenth overall in the Criterium International while working for Samu Sanchez, who finished fourth. He continued with a runner-up spot – after the disqualification of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) – at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He capped the first part of his season with a win in the time trial in the Vuelta a Asturias. With the men in orange looking to bolster their finances for 2011, the period of uncertainty saw him sign a three-year deal with Movistar. Nonetheless, he rode in support of Igor Anton at that year’s Vuelta a Espana until Anton was forced to withdraw after a crash on stage 14 while wearing the leader’s jersey.

Beñat believed he'd have more room to develop at Movistar

Beñat believed he’d have more room to develop at Movistar

Beñat might have hoped to flourish at the leaderless Movistar but his first season at the team was wretched. It started badly with a bout of flu, continued with some top five placings and was capped in May when he witnessed the death of friend, teammate and training partner Xavier Tondo. It was difficult to find the necessary motivation for the rest of the season and he crashed out of his first Tour de France. The injuries sustained at the Tour were exacerbated in the Vuelta a Burgos and he was left feeling “sick, tired and demoralised”.

Beñat wins overall in Vuelta Asturias - love the hat!

Beñat wins overall in Vuelta Asturias – love the hat!

Fortunately, he bounced back in 2012 winning the overall in the Vuelta a Asturias and finishing tenth overall in the Vuelta a Espana, setting him up for a cracking season this year where he’ll be looking to build on his burgeoning confidence and add to his palmares. So, as he blows out his 27 candles on his birthday cake, we wish him a successful 2013.

(All images courtesy of Beñat Intxausti.)