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Having attacked from far out, Hermans benefited from excellent work by his BMC teammates to hold off the peloton at the end of Brabantse Pijl; Matthews beat Gilbert in the sprint for second

Photo: ©Tim De Waele/TDW Sport

BEN HERMANS

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BRABANTSE PIJL

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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PHILIPPE GILBERT

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15.04.2015 @ 18:14 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ben Hermans (BMC) took the biggest win of his career when he emerged as a surprise winner of the Brabantse Pijl semi-classic. Having attacked with David Tanner (IAM) with less than 50km to go, he distanced his companions and as his BMC teammates did an excellent job covering the moves, he managed to hold off the diminished peloton from which Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) easily beat Philippe Gilbert (BMC) in the sprint for second.

 

Going into the Brabantse Pijl semi-classic, most were expecting the race to come down to a big duel between Philippe Gilbert and Michael Matthews who had occupied the top 2 spots one year ago. However, their BMC and Orica-GreenEDGE teams had completely different tactics for the race, with the Australians wanting to ride defensively and the Americans having an attacking approach.

 

It turned out that BMC had chosen the right approach as they came away with the win for the second year in a row but this time it was not Gilbert who stepped onto the top step of the podium. Instead, his teammate Ben Hermans took the biggest win of his career as he completed an excellent team performance by taking a solo win.

 

As the peloton hit the hilly finishing circuit which was to be covered three times, Orica-GreenEDGE took complete control as they wanted to bring the race back together for a sprint finish on the final Schavei climb. This allowed BMC to have a back seat from which they could play their cards.

 

Hermans made his move with 33km to go when he bridged the gap to a 4-rider group from which he quickly rode away with David Tanner (IAM). For most of the final part of the race, those two riders dangled 20-35 seconds ahead of the peloton where Orica-GreenEDGE were about to explode.

 

As they started the final lap of the 23.4km finishing circuit, Matthews found himself isolated and could do nothing else than trying to follow the key moves and hope that another team would start to chase. However, no team had strength in numbers apart from BMC and so it ended as a festival of attacks, with the American team covering all moves.

 

In the finale, Gilbert did an excellent work to mark all the favourites who all tried to get back in contention and this meant that no one managed to catch Hermans. In a dramatic finale, he hit the Schavei with a 5-second advantage but he managed to stay clear all the way to the top. When he took the final turn with 200m to go, it was clear that he was not going to get caught and he had plenty of time to celebrate his win before Matthews easily outsprinted Gilbert to take a second consecutive runner-up spot in the race.

 

The classics action continues on Sunday when most of today’s contenders will be back in action for the Amstel Gold Race, the first of the three Ardennes classics. The racing moves back to Belgium next Wednesday when Fleche Wallonne continues the series of hilly races before Liege-Bastogne-Liege brings the classics season to a close.

 

A hilly course

The hilly classics season kicked off with the 55th Brabantse Pijl which was held on a classic 205.4km course. After the start in Leuven, the riders headed along mostly flat roads with just 7 smaller climbs before they got to the 23.4km finishing circuit. Here they did almost a full circuit to tackle another 4 climbs before they crossed the finish line for the first time. The race ended with three laps of the circuit that had as total of 5 ascents, meaning that the riders would tackle no less than 26 climbs. The final Schavei climb summited just 200m from the finish and then it was a false flat to the line.

 

The riders took the start in summerlike conditions in Belgium but four riders were absent. Moreno Moser, Alex Howes, Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Garmin) and Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) were the non-starters when the 187 riders headed out for their hilly ride.

 

Lots of attacks

The riders may have been inspired by the excellent weather as they were in a very aggressive mood when they left Leuven. Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne) launched the first attack but he was quickly brought back while Barry Markus (LottoNL) and Simone Andreeta (Bardiani) fought their way back to the peloton after punctures.

 

A crash brought down Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) before a group with Brice Feillu (Bretagne) got clear. However, the Frenchman had no luck and after 20km of racing, it was still all together.

 

Leukemans hits the deck

Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne), Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) and Tim De Troyer (Wanty) got an advantage of a handful of seconds while another crash brought down pre-race favourite Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty). The Belgian managed to rejoin the peloton while the front trio was caught.

 

Natnael Berhane (MTN-Qhubeka) was the next rider to get clear but he had no luck either. Despite having a headwind, the riders covered no less than 43.5km in the first hour and the attacking continued.

 

A dangerous group

After 53km of racing, the fast pace split the peloton in two, with a 20-rider group getting clear. At the same time, Branislau Samoilau (CCC) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty) found themselves being distanced due to mechanicals.

 

The 20-rider group was brought back and this opened the door for Gerard and Marc De Maar (Roompot) to make a move. They managed to build an advantage of 18 seconds by the time the peloton climbed the former landmark climb of the Alsemberg and on the Brunepuit, they were joined by Dylan Teuns (BMC), Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) and Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE). That group was of course too dangerous and after 80km of racing, it was back together.

 

The break gets clear

Finally, the peloton stepped off the gas when Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne) and Alex Kirsch (Cult) took off and while a lot of riders took a natural break, the gap started to grow. At the 84km mark, it was 2.05 and 4km later it was 3 minutes.

 

The peloton allowed the gap to grow slowly and as they went up the Chaussee de Bruelles climb, they had allowed the escapees an advantage of 4.18. This was the signal for BMC to kick into action and with 105km to go, Campbell Flakemore had reduced the gap to 3.54.

 

An organized chase

Orica-GreenEDGE joined forces with BMC as Damien Howson started to chase with Flakemore and later Calvin Watson (Trek) also came to the fore. As they got onto the circuit, they had brought the gap down to 2.50 and now the fight for position was intense.

 

Hitting the Hertstraat climb with 88km to go, Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) launched the first attack but Orica-GreenEDGE were in no mood to let anyone get clear. Howson brought him back immediately before the Australian, Watson and Flakemore again started to wrk together.

 

Chavanel crashes

As they entered the final 80km, the peloton started to splinter as the many climbs were now taking their toll. At the same time a crash brought down, Huub Duijn (Roompot), Karel Hnik (Cult), Grega Bole (CCC) and the IAM trio of Sylvain Chavanel, Pirmin Lang and Matthias Brändle. While Bole had to abandon the race, the IAM riders had to chase for a long time before they rejoined the peloton.

 

Howson was doing all the work in the peloton as they hit the Schavei for the first time and when he led the peloton across the line for the first time, he had reduce the gap to just 2.17. Moments later, the fast pace set by De Gendt was too much for Kirsch who got distanced.

 

Kirsch drops off

Going up the Hertstraat climb, Mathew Hayman had to take over for Orica-GreenEDGE as the three early workers had now blown up. However, an impressive Howson came back to bring Krisch back with 58km to go.

 

BMC asked Manuel Senni to join forces with Howson and those two riders brought the gap down to less than 2 minutes before Howson finally called it a day. Senni also disappeared and so Svein Tuft took over.

 

Moinard covers the moves

With 50km to go, the attacking started again when Reinier Honig (Roompot) took offer. Tuft reacted and quickly brought him back while the peloton was splintering. The gap was now down to one minute.

 

As they hit the Schavei for the second time, Nick van der Lijke (LottoNL) attacked but as he was closely marked by Amael Moinard (BMC), the move had to success. Another stack by Roompot didn’t work either as Christian Meier was now working hard with Tuft.

 

Tanner takes off

BMC now wanted to make the race a bit harder, with Moinard taking a huge turn, but he was unable to prevent Tanner from getting clear. The Australian dangled 15 seconds ahead for a little while at a point when outsiders like Jasper Stuyven (Trek) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis) fell off the pace.

 

With 41km to go, Tanner had to surrender as Tuft went back to work. The front duo were now just 15 seconds ahead and as Moinard also started to work again, it was all over for the escapees with 15km to go.

 

Hermans makes his move

BMC hit the front with Senni before the attacking started again. With 36km to go, Tim De Troyer (Wanty) and Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) attacked and they were quickly joined by Tanner and Matysiak.

 

This was the signal for BMC to play their next card and Hermans quickly joined those four riders. Orica-GreenEDGE were chasing hard with Hayman and Tuft but they could do nothing as Hermans and Tanner rode away from their companions.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE on the defensive

With 30km to go, the three chasers were brought back but the Orica-GreenEDGE riders were now starting to fade. With 29km to go, the gap was 25 seconds while a big fight for position was going on.

 

As they hit the IJskelderlaan climb, Senni moved to the front to slow down the peloton and this allowed Leukemans to attack. He got to within 10 seconds of the leaders before he started to fade and had a hard time closing the gap while Brett Lancaster was now chasing for Orica-GreenEDGE.

 

A dangerous chase group

On the Schavei, Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18) took off but BMC were quick to react. Silvan Dillier (BMC) and Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep) joined the German and they quickly bridged the gap to Leukemans. Meanwhile, Hayman who was the only Matthews teammate left had blown up, leaving the pre-race favourite isolated.

 

Victor Campenaerts (Topsport) managed to join the chasers and later Dries Devenyns (IAM) also made it across. Suddenly, Fabio Felline (Trek), Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin), Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) and Mirko Selvaggi (Wanty) also joined the move which was now a dangerous 10-rider group.

 

A new chase group

The attacking continued and after two Roompot riders had made a move, Matthews joined the chasers. A 10-15 rider group with the likes of Gilbert, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo), Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) and Marco Marcato (Wanty) joined them and the attacking could start again.

 

This time Selvaggi, Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), Campenaerts, Pauwels, Huub Duijn (Roompot), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Felline and Marco Canola (Unitedhealthcare) got clear. With 12km to go, they were 20 seconds behind the leaders while the peloton was 15 seconds further adrift.

 

BMC chase hard

BMC had missed the move and so they started to chase with CCC and Cannondale-Garmin. Their efforts allowed Davide Rebellin (CCC) to bridge the gap but just as the junction was made, the chasers were back in the fold due to the hard work by Dillier.

 

The peloton was now down to 30 riders and BMC slowed down immediately. Rudy Molard (Cofidis) launched the next attack and was joined by Vakoc, Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka), Haas and Campenaerts but when more riders got across, BMC brought it back.

 

BMC shut everything down

Chavanel launched a solo move but again BMC were quick to chase him down and Moinard also shut a move from Campenaerts down. With 5km to go, the gap was still 35 seconds and no one had strength in numbers to organize a chase.

 

Etixx-QuickStep tried to up the pace with Vermote and Vakoc before Bryan Coquard took over for Europcar. As they hit the Ijskelderlaan with 5km to go, Sander Armee rode hard for Lotto Soudal but he could not prevent Molard from making another attack.

 

Gilbert tests his legs

The Frenchman was joined by Marcato and a Topsport Vlaanderen rider before Gilbert and Alaphilippe joined them too. The acceleration had brought the gap down to 10 seconds and now Hermans decided that it was time to distance Tanner.

 

Gilbert decided to test his legs and only Alaphilippe could stay with the Belgian. Of course he slowed down again as they had caught Tanner and this allowed Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Matthews and later also Felline and Haas to join the group.

 

Hermans takes the win

There was no cooperation and so Alaphilippe attacked out of the group which was just 5 seconds behind as they hit Schavei. A bigger group gathered behind the lone Frenchman and Dillier went straight to the front to bring him back.

 

BMC were riding slowly up the climb before Devenyns made a surge. However, it was too late and when Hermans made the turn with 200m to go, it was clear that he was going to win. Matthews launched a long sprint from the final bend but had to settle for second while Gilbert completed the podium.

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