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Having been given the perfect lead-out by his Etixx-QuickStep teammates, Meersman narrowly held of Demoitie and Benoot to win the bunch sprint at the Handzame Classic

Photo: Sirotti

BREDENE KOKSIJDE CLASSIC

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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TIESJ BENOOT

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20.03.2015 @ 17:06 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) continued his solid start to the season when he took a narrow sprint victory in the Handzame Classic. After his Etixx-QuickStep team had played with the muscles and given their fast Belgian the perfect lead-out, he held off Antoine Demoitie (Wallonie) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) to take his third win of the year.

 

Two years ago Gianni Meersman dominated the sprints at the Volta a Catalunya whose hilly terrain is perfectly suited the versatile fastman. This year he aims to again be a dominant force in the Spanish race and today he tested his form in the Handzame Classic.

 

The outcome of that race could not have been better for Meersman who finished off excellent Etixx-QuickStep teamwork by taking a very narrow sprint win in the race that has traditionally been decided in a bunch kick. After a very close sprint, he held off Antoine Demoitie and Tiesj Benoot and may find inspiration in the fact that last year’s winner Luka Mezgec went on to win three stages of the Catalonian race.

 

All day Etixx-QuickStep made their intentions clear and the Belgian team clearly wanted the race to come down to the expected bunch sprint. All day they stayed in control of the race after they had been attentive in the first part to allow a small four-rider break to get clear and they chased down the many attacks from the Lotto Soudal team in the hilly zone and on the 18km finishing circuit.

 

Just after the start of the final 18km lap, the final escapee was brought back and from here it was Etixx-QuickStep all over the place. Pieter Serry and Martin Velits made sure that the Belgian team was first onto the Steenstraat climb with 10km to go and those two riders rode so fast that nobody dared to attack.

 

From there, they kept the pace high while their rival trains fought for position but not one could pass the Belgians. Entering the final 5km, Serry and Velits swung out and it was Guillaume Van Keirsbulck who took the next big turn before Iljo Keisse took over.

 

Lukasz Wisniowski was next for the Belgian team and he had to respond promptly when Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal) made a short-lived attack. The Pole led the peloton under the flamme rouge where Matteo Trentin started the real lead-out.

 

Yves Lampaert was the final rider to launch Meersman who started his sprint from the perfect position. However, Demoitie proved to be a tough rival and the two riders crossed the line almost simultaneously, with Meersman raising his arms to signal that he had taken his third win of the season.

 

Many of the riders in today’s race will be back in action tomorrow when the racing moves across the border to the Netherlands for the Ronde van Zeeland which has traditionally been held in the summer. The next major Belgian race is Dwars door Vlaanderen which starts the cobbled classics season next Wednesday.

 

 

A mostly flat race

The 13th edition of the Handzame Classic was held on a 195km course that started in Bredene and finished in Handzame. After a flat start, the riders tackled three pave sectors before they hit the hilly zone which included Vidaigneberg, Monteberg and Scherpenberg before another flat section followed. The riders ended the race by doing 3 laps of an 18km finishing circuit that included the small Steenstraat climb which had rarely been hard enough to prevent a bunch sprint.

 

The riders took the start under a cloudy sky but with only little wind and dry roads, the scene was set for a day for the sprinters in the relatively new Belgian race. Nonetheless, many riders were keen on trying to prevent that script and so the race got off to a very fast start with lots of attacks.

 

A fast start

The first promising move was made by Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep), Campbell Flakemore (BMC), Alex Krisch (Cult), Mathew Zenovich (Champion System), Ike Groen (CT Rijke) and Niels Goeree (Metec). For a while, those five riders had an advantage of 10-15 seconds but at the 16km mark, they were brought back.

 

The fast pace continued as several attacks were launched but Etixx-QuickStep kept things firmly under control. After 31km of racing, no one had still managed to get clear but moments later the elastic snapped.

 

The break is formed

While the peloton slowed down, Conor Dunne (An Post), Kirsch, Tom Wirtgen (Leopard) and Dries Hollanders (Metec) started to build an advantage. When they reached the first pave sector, they had increased their gap to 1.15 and with 114km to go, it was already 6.18.

 

The peloton now entered the hilly zone and this created a big acceleration. The hard fight for position caused the gap to come down and with 90km to go, the gap was only 3.40.

 

Lotto Soudal ride aggressively

Lotto Soudal tried to use the hilly zone to split the race. First Sander Armee and Tosh van der Sande tried to escape and when they were brought back, Vegard Breen gave it a go. However, none of them managed to get clear but the Belgian team remained in control of the race.

 

At this point, they also had bad luck as previous winner Kenny Dehaes who has already had lots of crashes this year, hit the deck. The Belgian was transported away from the race in an ambulance after having hurt his wrist.

 

CCC takes control

Having exited the hilly zone, the peloton again slowed down and this allowed the gap to grow. While Vastgoedservice and Verandas Willems set the pace, the gap went back up to 5.33.

 

CCC took control of the race and started to chase hard. They were joined by the Verandas Willems team and those two squads managed to reduce their deficit to 3.10 by the time they crossed the finish line for the first time. At this point, they also got a bit of help from Flakemore (BMC).

 

The front group splits up

As the riders exited Handzame to start the first lap of the finishing circuit, Verandas Willems made a big acceleration and they strung out the peloton. They were joined by Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) and they combined forces to reduce the gap even further on the narrow roads.

 

As the escapees hit the Steenstraat climb for the first time, Dunne attacked. Wirtgen fell off the pace immediately and when Kirsch tried a counterattack, Hollanders also fell off the pace. While those two riders lost ground, Dunne and Kirsch pressed on.

 

Etixx—QuickStep accelerate

In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep tried to split the race in the crosswinds when Keisse, Pieter Serry and Guillaume van Keirsbulck took some huge turns on the front. Martin Mortensen (Cult) and van der Sande were also part of the action but the move failed.

 

Instead, Etixx-QuickStep went back into chase mode with Serry working on the front and they brought both Wirtgen and Hollanders back before they had started the penultimate lap. As they crossed the line again, CCC and Verandas Willems also went back to work, providing more firepower to the chase.

 

Van der Sande attacks

While Vastgoedservice also started to chasse in the peloton, the escapees hit the Steenstraat for the second time and here Kirsch proved that he was the strongest rider in the break. Launching a big attack, he easily distanced Dunne and he crested the summit as the lone leader.

 

Meanwhile, Etixx-QuickStep had again won the big fight for position and the Belgian team had several riders on the front by the time they turned onto the climb. However, they were forced on the defensive when van der Sande launched a big attack.

 

De Bie makes a move

The Lotto Soudal rider quickly got a gap while a small group with Van Keirsbluck tried to bridge the gap. However, it was a lone Cult rider who made the junction before Yves Lampaert brought it back together.

 

Lotto Soudal were intent on riding aggressively and so Sean de Bie launched an immediate counterattack. The Belgian was joined by a rider from Unitedhealthcare and later one from Vastgoedservice also bridged across.

 

More attacks

Those three riders worked well together before Lampaert also made the junction. Next it was a Roompot rider to make it across and suddenly the entire peloton had also caught up with the trio.

 

The Cibel team started to ride on the front in an attempt to calm down the attacking but they couldn’t prevent a rider from Colerano from making the next move. Sander Cordeel (Vastgoedservice) and De Bie passed him but a huge turn by Serry brought the group back together.

 

Breen takes off

Etixx-QuickStep tried to take control but Lotto Soudal were relentless. As they entered Handzame again, Breen made the next move for the Belgian team and he actually seemed to ride away.

 

As they approached the start of the final lap, Breen bridged the gap to a fading Kirsch but behind the chase had got organized. Wanty were now working with Etixx-QuickStep, De Rijke and Vastgoedservice and at the passage of the line, the front duo were only 10 seconds ahead.

 

Kirsch gets dropped

Kirsch hung onto Breen’s wheel for a few kilometres before he finally crack and left it to the young Norwegian to press on alone.  He got some welcome assistance when a rider from Colberano joined him but now the peloton led by Etixx-QuickStep was breathing down their neck.

 

Breen used the Colberano rider to recover for a moment before he made his next attack. He continued for on his own for a little while but it was mission impossible as Roompot and Etixx-QuickStep were chasing hard.

 

Breen is caught

Just before the riders turned onto the narrow roads, Breen was caught and it was Etixx-QuickStep who again had won the fight for position. Serry was taking a massive turn on the front as they went up the Stenstraat for the final time and he prevented anybody from making an attack.

 

Martin Velits started to work with his Belgia teammates and those two riders led the peloton back onto bigger roads. Meanwhile, BMC and Lotto Soudal were looming in the background and preparing themselves for the sprint.

 

Everybody was now intent on deciding the race in a bunch kick and inside the final 10km, it was Etixx-QuickStep and Roompot lined out on the front. The Dutch team lost ground though and instead Joker moved up next to the big WorldTour team. They came up short, however, and when Van Keirsbulck took over, Etixx-QuickStep completely dominated the final part of the race.

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