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Emerging as the strongest from a 10-rider breakaway, De Gendt rode to a solo win in the queen stage of the Volta a Catalunya; Quintana finished second and took the overall lead with an 8-second advantage over Contador

Photo: Sirotti












24.03.2016 @ 17:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) broke a three-year drought to an end by claiming an impressive solo win in his trademark attacking fashion on the queen stage of the Volta a Catalunya. While the Belgian emerged as the strongest from a 10-rider breakaway, Nairo Quintana’s (Movistar) many attacks finally made Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) crack and the Colombian rode to second place which allowed him to move into the overall lead with an 8-second advantage over the Spaniard. Richie Porte (BMC) finished third and is also third overall.


In 2011, Thomas De Gendt emerged on the professional cycling scene by riding to a surprise stage win in Paris-Nice and he quickly developed a reputation as the king of successful breakaways. Almost impossible to catch on his best days, he won another stage in the Race to the Sun and stages in the Tour de Suisse, the Volta a Catalunya and the Giro d’Italia where he even emerged as a GC contender by taking third.


However, De Gendt is no longer the rider he once was and in fact he failed to win a single race in 2014 and 2015, with his latest win coming at the 2013 Volta a Catalunya. Today he finally broke his drought and he did so at the same race that saw him come out on top three years ago.


De Gendt looked like his former self when he joined the right 10-rider break in the queen stage of the Catalan race and emerged as the strongest on the final climb. He gauged his effort perfectly to pass a fading Pieter Weening (Roompot) inside the final 2km and take an emphatic solo win.


Behind De Gendt, the GC battle was on and it was Nairo Quintana who emerged as the strongest. The Colombian attacked repeatedly in an attempt to get rid of Alberto Contador and inside the final kilometre, he managed to escape, riding to second on the stage and claiming the overall lead.


At the bottom of the final 18.5km climb, the 10-rider break had splintered and it was Imanol Erviti (Movistar) who led the race. He was chased by the duo of De Gendt and Weening, with Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) further back. Sky had played an offensive strategy  and sent Wout Poels off in a late attack and he was with teammate Ben Swift, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Boris Dron (Wanty) who had been in the early break. Etixx-QuickStep were leading the chase in the peloton.


At the bottom of the ascent, Erviti led De Gendt and Weening by 50 seconds while the Ten Dam quartet was at 3.30. The Poels group was one minute ahead of the peloton which was at 6.30.


Right from the bottom, Poels took off and left Swift, Dron and Gilbert behind. Meanwhile, Weening dropped De Gendt and made it back to Erviti. The Spaniard managed to hang on for a few hundred metres but with 16km to go, Weening was the lone leader.


In the peloton, David de La Cruz and Carlos Verona were the only domestiques left for Daniel Martin and the former fell off immediately when Contador showed his intentions. Jesper Hansen hit the front for Tinkoff and upped the pace significantly.


With 12km to go, Weening was 40 seconds ahead of Erviti and De Gendt who had combined forces while Poels had passed the Ten Dam group which had dropped Tsatevich. Hansen’s fast pace had reduced the gap to the peloton to 5.35.


Hansen ended his work and left it to Carlos Verona to set the pace for Etixx-QuickStep. The Spaniard reduced Poels’ advantage to 25 seconds with 10km to go. Meanwhile, Weening had pushed his advantage over the chase out to 1.04.


Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) attacked from the peloton and quickly got a gap of 15 seconds. He passed Poels who gave up and was caught by the peloton with 7km to go.


Just in that moment, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) attacked and he quickly passed Gesink who was brought back. Meanwhile, Weening kept the gap over his chasers stable at a minute and still had a 5.15 advantage over the peloton.


With 5km to go, Mikel Nieve upped the pace for Sky before Samuel Sanchez took over for BMC, stringing the peloton out. With 3km to go, he had reduced the gap to 3.56 and whittled the group down to around 20 riders while also bringing Lopez back


Suddenly, De Gendt was getting closer and he had dropped Erviti and was just 45 seconds behind as he passed the 3km to go banner. One kilometre later, he had the Dutchman in sight and the scene was set for a dramatic finale.


In the peloton, the attacking started when Tejay van Garderen (BMC) launched the first attack. Contador took responsibility for the chase and together with Richie Porte, Quintana, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), he caught the American.


While the battle raged, De Gendt caught Weening and he went straight past the Dutchman who had completely given up. Further back, Porte was the next to attack and this time only Contador, Quintana and van Garderen could respond.


Martin led the chase in the small group but just as he was about to regain contact, Contador went again. He failed to get clear but was quick to respond when Quintana countered the move. This the BMC pair had to surrender and Quintana and Contador quickly got a gap.


Quintana and Contador passed the fading Erviti and while De Gendt took time to celebrate his impressive win, Quintana tried another two attacks. It was third time lucky as the Spaniard was dropped inside the final kilometre.


Quintana sprinted past the fading Weening to reach the finish 1.08 behind De Gendt. Porte managed to catch Contador whom he narrowly edged out in the sprint for the final bonus seconds after the pair had also passed Weening who had to settle for sixth after being caught by van Garderen. Zakarin took seventh while Chris Froome (Sky) rode his own tempo on the climb to reach the finish in 8th in a group with Bardet, Uran and Martin.


With the second place, Quintana takes the overall lead with an 8-second advantage over Contador while Porte is 9 seconds further adrift. He will try to defend that position in tomorrow’s fifth stage which is significantly easier. It is mostly flat and includes two category 2 climbs. The final of those comes with 10.6km to go and from there it is a downhill run to an uphill sprint in Valls. The stage has been decided in reduced bunch sprints in the past but has also been marked by strong wind.


The queen stage

After the first battle in the mountains, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 172.2km from Baga to the top of Port Ainé. Right from the start, the riders hit a category 3 climb and then hit flat terrain for the rest of the first half. In the second half, they first faced a category HC and a category 1 climb before they descended to the bottom of the final climb which averaged 6.8% over 18.5km and was expected to be the scene of a big battle.


Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) who crashed yesterday and Johnny Hoogerland (Roompot) were both absent when the peloton gathered in beautiful sunny weather. Immediately from the start, they hit a category 3 climb, and it meant that the start was brutal. While six riders tried to get free, the peloton splintered to pieces and the chaos saw Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data) hitting the deck in a crash.


10 riders get clear

The six riders were caught before the top where Rein Taaramäe (Katusha) beat Felix Grosschartner (CCC), Pieter Weening (Roompot) and Arnaud Courteille (FDJ) in the KOM sprint. The peloton was split in two, and when the aggression continued, it was not easy for the second group to get back. In fact, they were 1.40 behind the first group when 8 riders managed to escape.


Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Rubén Plaza (Orica-GreenEdge), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Pieter Weening (Roompot Oranje) and Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) quickly got an advantage while Ben Swift (Sky) and Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) tried to close a gap of 35 seconds. They made it while the peloton allowed the gap to grow to one minute. Meanwhile, Contador lost an important teammate since illness forced Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff) to abandon, just like his compatriot Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal).


Etixx-QuickStep and Movistar in control

The peloton slowed down and a regrouping took place while the lead had grown to 2.10 when De Gendt beat Tsatevich and Swift in the first intermediate sprint. It reached 3.45 before the situation stabilized at the the second sprint where De Gendt won ahead of Tsatevich and Weening.


The riders covered 42.1 kilometers during the first hour, and it was Movistar and Etixx-QuickStep who set the pace in the field. However, they were not really chasingand the gap grew steadily to 8.30 after 64km of racing. It was even a massive 9.45 when they passed the feed zone immediately before the start of the Canto climb.


Sky up the pace

As soon as they started to climb, Sky increased the pace significantly and immediately riders fell off the pace. Nick van der lijke (Roompot) was abandon while the gap dropped to 8.20 with 84km to go. Just two kilometers later it was down to 7.14 but as Geraint Thomas was dropped from the group which was down to 40 riders, Etixx-QuickStep took over when the gap was only 6.40. The Belgian team slowed down, and while Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) dropped back to his car, the gap went out to seven minutes where it stabilized. Meanwhile, lots of riders rejoined the peloton, including Thomas.


The peloton again upped the pace, and so the gap was brought down to six minutes with 71km to go. Here Nathan Brown (Cannondale) launched an attack while Marc Soler (Movistar) took off in pursuit. When the American had a lead of 30 seconds, his teammate Andre Cardoso also took off and when Soler made the junction, he was only 15 seconds behind. There was also plenty of attacks from the peloton where Dayer Quintana (Movistar), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Davide Arroyo (Caja Rural) and Björn Thurau (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) all tried, and after Cardoso had made contact, this quartet also joined Brown and Soler. The septet about 3km from the top and 7 minutes behind front group while they had a lead of 20 seconds over the peloton where there were more attacks.


De Gendt and Erviti take off

Dron won the KOM sprint ahead of Tsatevich and De Gendt while Rafael Valls (Lotto Soudal) left the race at the end of the third hour where the average speed was 37.6km/h. The peloton crested the summit 7.20 behind the leaders.


The Cataldo septet was brought back on the descent where De Gendt and Erviti attacked from the front group. With 45km to go, they reached the bottom with a 40-second advantage and had pushed their gap to the peloton out to 7.55. In the bunch, Petr Vakoc, Julian Alaphilippe and Gianni Meersman set the pace for Etixx-QuickStep.


Weening back in contention

The chase group split up on the penultimate climb as Weening, Plaza, Tsatevich, Durasek and Ten Dam dropped Swift, Gilbert and Dron. The Dutchman was clearly stronger than the rest though and he quickly distanced the rest. He slowly made it back to the front and bridged the 1-minute gap with 38km to go. The four chasers didn’t get any closer. The peloton was in no hurry and was now 9.07 behind the leaders.


Etixx-QuickStep decided that it was time to up the pace with Vakov, Laurens De Plus and David De La Cruz and they slowly reduced the gap to 7.10 with 36km to go. Meanwhile, De Gendt led Weening and Erviti over the top while Ten Dam, Tsatveich, Durasek and Plaza followed in that order less than a minute later.


Poels takes off

Sky decided to play their next card when they sent Wou Poels off in an attack and he quickly got a 35-second advantage as he crested the summit. That forced Etixx-QuickStep to chase a lot harder and they made a huge selection, cresting the summit 6.36 behind the front trio.


Swift waited for Poels and sacrificed himself for his teammate, pushing the gap out to 45 seconds on the descent. The Sky pair also picked up Gilbert.


Erviti attacked hard on the descent and quickly gained a lot of time on Weening and De Gendt. At the bottom, he had extended his advantage over the Ten Dam group to 2.33 but the peloton was getting closer as they were now just 5 minutes behind and still led by Etixx-QuickStep. Moments later, Erviti hit the climb where the action unfolded.



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