Björn Leukemans (Wanty) partly made up for his frustrating near-miss on the final stage of the Eneco Tour when he turned out to be the strongest in the big Belgian one-day race GP Jef Scherens. In a constant elimination from a 40-rider breakaway, only four riders were left in the finale and finally Leuemans attacked on the final climb to take a solo win. Dmitri Claeys (Verandas Willems) and Mark McNally (Madison Genesis) completed the podium.
Björn Leukemans may no longer be a contender in the biggest classics but he is still one of the best one-day riders in the world. Traditionally he has always been very strong in the second half of the season when the many Belgian semiclassics have given him plenty of room to show his talents.
Leukemans already proved his good condition one week ago when he was agonizingly close to winning the final stage of the Eneco Tour. Today he got his big revenge when he was clearly the strongest in the 49th edition of the GP Jef Scherens.
The race was made up of 13 laps of circuit around Leuven and with its three small climbs, it was the perfect scene for an aggressive race. Hence, it was no surprise that it exploded to pieces already on the first lap.
Sixteen riders laid the foundations for the big break that would decide the race and Leukemans was among 19 riders to make it across to form a 35-rider breakaway. Later five riders also joined the front and as all the big teams had riders on the attack, the peloton quickly sat up. In the end, they were eliminated by the jury, leaving it to the attackers to decide the race.
Leukemans had teammates Marco Marcato, Marco Minnaard and Frederik Veuchelen in the group and so Wanty were very well represented. With little cooperation in the group, they helped split it up and both Leukemans and Marcato were there when six riders took off.
Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice), Mark McNally, Vegard Breen (Lotto Soudal) and Merijn Korevaar (Rabobank) were able to follow and those six riders maintained an advantage of 45 seconds for several laps. Meanwhile, the gradual elimination continued when Korevaar punctured out of the group and Breen was dropped.
That left just four riders in the group when they started the final two laps. On the penultimate lap, the Verandas Willems pair of Gaetan Bille and Dimitri Claeys attacked from the chase group and with Bille sacrificing himself for his teammate, they were just 30 seconds behind at the start of the final 14km lap. At this point, the big group was more than a minute behind and out of the battle for the win.
The two chasers were getting closer and this meant that the pace never went down in the front group. Hence, van Aert was dropped on one of the final climbs, leaving McNally up against two teammates.
Leukemans made his move on the final climb and the Brit was no match to his speed. The Belgian rode strongly to the finish to win the race. Further back, Claeys joined the chasers and managed to beat McNally in the sprint for second.
Leukemans will get a chance to continue his momentum next Wednesday. The next race in the series of Belgian semiclassics is Druivenkoers Overijse which he has dominated several times in the past.
A hilly circuit
The 49th edition of the GP Jef Scherens was a circuit race around the city of Leuven. The riders would do 13 laps of the 14.1km circuit for a total of 183.3km. It contained three smaller climbs and so the riders would tackle a total of 39 ascents.
Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Franscesco Van Coppernolle (Veranclassic-Ekoi), Sergey Nikolaev (Rusvelo), Kai Reus (Verandas Willems) and Michael Vink (CCT/Champion System) were absent as they rolled out for their race on a sunny day in Belgium. Maxime Cam (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Daan Hoeyberghs (BKCP-Powerplus), Matthijs Eversdijk (Cycling Team De Rijke), Mitchell Cornelisse (Rabobank Development Team), Matthew Cronshaw (Madison Genesis) and Haavard Blikra (Team Coop-Oster Hus) quickly managed to get clear and were joined by Roman Maikin (Rusvelo), Ronan Van Zandbeek (Cycling Team De Rijke), Laurent Vanden Bak (Leopard Development Team) and Robbe Casier (Vera Classic koi) to form a 10-rider group. However, it was all back together at the 6km mark.
A big group gets clear
Cam and van Zandbeek tried again and managed to get a 10-second advantage before they were brought back at the first passage of the finish line. Here 8 riders got clear but it was impossible to get clear.
Several riders abandoned the race, including Eversdijk who broke his collarbone in a crash, while the fast pace split the peloton into pieces. Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Mark Mc Nally (Madison Genesis), Martijn Degreve (Team 3m) and Rob Ruijgh (Vastgoedservice Golden Palace) finally managed to break the peloton’s clutches before Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Dimitri Claeys (Verandas Willems), Vegard Breen (Lotto-Soudal), Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), Huub Duijn (Team Roompot), Kirill Rybakov (Rusvelo), Marco Minaaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)Michael Boros (BKCP-Powerplus), Jetse Bol (Cyclingteam Join's-De Rijke), and Peter Lenderink (Rabobank Development Team) took off in pursuit. They made the junction, meaning that it was a 15-rider front group at the end of the first lap.
More riders make the junction
They got an advantage of 20 seconds before Krister Hagen (Coop) bridged across. Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty) made an unsuccessful try as they ended the third lap.
With the gap down to 10 seconds, Sean De Bie, Kenny Dehaes, Dennis Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal), Antoine Demoitié, Gregory Habeaux, Antoine Warnier (Wallonie-Bruxelles), Marco Marcato (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Oscar Riesebeek (Metec-TKH Continental Cycling Team), Kirill Pozdnyakov, Sergey Nikolaev (Rusvelo), Dries De Bondt (Verandas Willems), Wesley Kreder (Team Roompot), Wouter Mol (Cyclingteam Join's - De Rijke), Antwan Tolhoek (Rabobank Development Team), Thomas Scully (Madison Genesis), Dennis Coenen (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), Kevin Ledanois (Bretagne-Séché Environnement ), Leukemans, Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty), Gaetan Bille and Daan Myngheer (Verandas Willems) managed to bridge the gap to mae it 35 riders in the front. They had an advantage of 1.02 when Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Philip Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus), Jimmy Janssens (team 3m), Kevin Ista (Wallonie-Bruxelles) and Merijn Korevaar (Rabobank Development Team) tried to bridge the gap.
A failed Topsport chase
The peloton was no longer chasing and so was 1.50 behind at the end of the next lap. At this point, the five chasers were at 20 seconds but they made it back during the next lap to make it 40 leaders.
At the end of the next lap, 25 riders had taken off in pursuit and they were just 1.25 behind as they sped around the next lap. It was whittled down to Victor Campenaerts and Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and they picked up Ledanois who was dropped from the front group.
Six riders get clear
With 100km to go, the three chasers were 1 minute behind while the 40-rider peloton was at 2.15. Surprisingly, the peloton got back up to speed and 10km later, the gap was only 50 seconds.
This prompted Leukemans, Marcato, Breen, McNally, van Aert and Korevaar to attack and they quickly got a big advantage. With 85km to go, they were 45 seconds ahead of their former companions while the Topsport duo was at 1.10 and the peloton at 1.45.
Bad luck for Korevaar
Korevaar had bad luck to puncture out of the front group and fell back to the chasers who were now at 50 seconds. Meanwhile, the peloton had sat up and was at 4.07 with 60km to go.
Rain started to fall when De Bie tried to bridge the gap. He never made it across and instead Dehaes made the group explode.
Breen sits up
With 43km to go, the jury took the peloton out of the race, leaving just the escapees to battle for the win. Surprisingly, Breen decided to wait for the chasers, leaving just four riders in front.
With 30km to go, the gap was still only 45 seconds at a point when only Sean De Bie, Kenny Dehaes, Dennis Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal), Antoine Demoitié, Gregory Habeaux (Wallonie-Bruxelles), Federik Veuchelen, Marco Minaaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Oscar Riesebeek (Metec-TKH Continental Cycling Team), Kirill Pozdnyakov, Sergey Nikolaev (Rusvelo), Wouter Mol (Cyclingteam Join's - De Rijke), Antwan Tolhoek (Rabobank Development Team), Thomas Scully (Madison Genesis), Dennis Coenen (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), Dimitri Claeys, Gaetan Bille, Dries De Bondt (Verandas Willems),Huub Duijn (Team Roompot), Kirill Rybakov (Rusvelo), Michael Boros (BKCP-Powerplus), Jetse Bol (Cyclingteam Join's-De Rijke), Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Martijn Degreve (Team 3M), Rob Ruijgh (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), Krister Hagen (Team Coop-Oster Plus), Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Philip Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus), Jimmy Janssens (Team 3M) and Merijn Korevaar (Rabobank Development Team) were left in the chase group. Riesebeek tried to bridge across alone but he had no success.
Bille and Claeys were the next to try and at the start of the final lap, they were just 32 seconds behind. With the rest of the group trailing by 1.18 it was clear that the winner would be one of the six attackers.
The chasing duo got closer and closer which forced the leaders to ride hard. Van Aert was dropped before Leukemans attacked on the final climb. No one managed to follow him while Bille sacrificed himself for Claeys who joined the chaser. However, it was too late to catch Leukemans who took the win while Clayes beat McNally in the sprint for second
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