Oscar 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?”
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!
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