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The Belgian survives the many climbs to make it into a 30-rider front group and holds off Ventoso and Swift to take the second sprint win for Omega Pharma-Quick Step today

Photo: OPQS / Tim De Waele

CHALLENGE MALLORCA

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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12.02.2014 @ 15:29 Posted by Adam Aisen

Gianni Meersman made it two in a row for Omega Pharma-Quick Step in the Challenge Mallorca when he won today's Trofeo Muro just 24 hours after Michal Kwiatkowski's solo win the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana. The Belgian survived the tough climbing and made it into the 30-rider front group that decided the race in a sprint where he held off Francisco Ventono (Movistar) and Ben Swift (Sky).

 

Omega Pharma-Quick Step are really on a roll at the moment. Just hours after winning the third of four stages in the Tour of Qatar and one day after Michal Kwiatkowski's solo win in the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, Gianni Meersman took another victory for the Belgians when he came out on top in the final race of the Challenge Mallora, Trofeo Muro.

 

The race was characterized by a heavy climbing burden that was located in the first half of the race and a very fast and aggressive race added to the tough terrain to create a very hard race. A very strong 14-rider group dominated most of the day and it required a concerted effort from Team Sky to bring things back together for a sprint for their fast finisher Ben Swift.

 

The hard racing took its toll as only 30 riders were left when the peloton hammered down the finishing straight but Meersman had again proved that he is much more than a sprinter. The Belgian was well-positioned near the front and in prime position to take his first win of the season after having finished 4th and 3rd in the first two races of the race series.

 

In the end, Meersman emerged as the strongest as he held off Francisco Ventoso and Ben Swift to take Omega Pharma-Quick Step's 5th win in just 4 days. For once, there was no success for Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) who had won the first two races as he could only manage 4th in the final sprint.

 

With today's race, the Challenge Mallorca is now over but the Spanish race calendar will resume next Wednesday when the Vuelta a Andalusia kicks off its 5 days of competition.

 

A hilly race

The 162km Trofeo Muro brought four days of racing in Mallorca to an end with a very hilly course. After a flat start, the riders were set to tackle the category 2 Coll de Femenies before again climbing yesterday's ascent of the Puig Major, albeit from the easier side. The category 2 Coll de Soller and Coll d'Honor followed but the race ended with a 50km downhill stretch to the line, meaning that a sprint from a reduced group was the likely outcome.

 

The race started without one of its favourites as Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) had to cancel his participation due to illness. He was saved from a very fast and intense start that saw the riders head out from the start at a furious pace.

 

The first attack

At the 15km mark, Andreas Stauff (MTN Qhubeka) beat Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) and Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi) in the first intermediate sprint and at that point a group still hadn't got clear. The riders reached the 34km mark before the first move got a significant gap, with Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Alexandre Pichot (Europcar), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), David Belda (Burgos) and Dylan Groenewegen (De Rijke) taking off.

 

The offensive only lasted for three kilometres before things again were back together. Several new attacks were launched but the riders got to the bottom of the first climb before the decisive move was formed.

 

The break is formed

Ruben Plaza (Movistar) and Mikel Landa (Astana) attacked while Igor Anton (Movistar), Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEDGE), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol), Andre Cardoso (Garmin-Sharp), Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Tiago Machado (NetApp-Endura) and Jesus Del Pino (Burgos) set off in pursuit. Before the top of the climb, the two groups merged, with Txurruka cresting the summit in first position ahead of Cardoso, Landa, Anton, Del Pino  and Pauwels.

 

Johann Van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Maxime Mederel (Europcar) and Miguel Minguez (Euskadi) created a chasing trio that managed to join the front group on the descent. Hence, a very strong 13-rider group had formed  and they were 1.05 ahead at the 51km mark.

 

Ulissi bridges across

Lampre-Merida had missed the move but Diego Ulissi proved splendid condition when he closed the gap on his own in a matter of seconds. He made the junction to form a 14-rider escape which had 1.24 at the bottom of the Puig Major.

 

Behind, Team Sky started to chase hard and they kept the gap rather stable just below the 1.30 mark all the way up the climb. On the top, Pauwels took maximum points ahead of Txurruka, Cardoso, Meier, and Landa.

 

Pauwels and Txurruka escape

Pauwels and Txurruka opened a gap on the descent but before they reached the bottom, the front group was back together. At the bottom of the Coll del Soller, they  were 1.16 ahead of the peloton which was still led by Sky.

 

The British team upped the pace on the climb, forcing the breakaway to react. This was too much for Van Zyl, Del Pino and Meier who all fell back to the peloton.

 

The break splits up

At the top, Txurruka again took maximum points ahead of Van Den Broeck, Plaza, Machado, Landa, and Cardoso and at that point their advantage was only 53 seconds. Anton and Mederel had now also fallen off the pace and that duo was quickly swallowed up by the main group.

 

In the intermediate sprint in between the two final climbs, Txurruka beat Minguez and Machado and the gap was now down to just 44 seconds. With the gap constantly on the decline, Plaza and Machado attacked on the final climb of the day Coll d'Honor while the former companions were caught by the Sky-led peloton.

 

The break is caught

At the top, Plaza was first ahead of Machado while Txurruka sprinted ahead of the Sky riders Vasil Kiryienka, Ben Swift and Josh Edmondson so score more points and secure his win in the mountains classification. The front duo did their best to stay clear but at the 112km mark, it was back together.

 

The hard pace had split the peloton, with another big group being in hard pursuit 40 seconds behind the peloton. The final part of the stage was a fierce pursuit between those two groups but when Kiryienka led his teammates Bradley Wiggins and Edvald Boasson Hagen across the line at the special sprint 28km from the finish, the gap was a minute, meaning that it was clear that the 45-rider front group would contest the win.

 

The wind splits the front group

The wind played a role in the final 20km when Omega Pharma-Quick Step hit the front and split the front group. When the dust had settled, 29 riders were left and they powered towards a sprint finish.

 

With Meersman, Modolo, Ventoso and Swift all having made the selection, there were plenty of fast finishers present for the high-speed finish. In the end, Meersman emerged as the strongest, holding off Ventoso and Swift for another win for Omega Pharma-Quick Step.

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