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After four consecutive second places, Meersman finally took the elusive victory when he easily beat Lampaert and Stuyven in a sprint at the end of the Tour de Wallonie queen stage; the Belgian also won the race overall

Photo: OPQS / Tim De Waele

GIANNI MEERSMAN

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JUAN JOSE LOBATO

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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SILVAN DILLIER

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TOUR DE WALLONIE 

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30.07.2014 @ 17:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) finally put the many disappointments behind him when he won today’s queen stage of the Tour de Wallonie to put an end of his string of second places. Having been perfectly escorted through the very hard terrain by his teammates, he still had enough energy to launch a powerful sprint and held off Yves Lampaert (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek) in the sprint from a reduced peloton. Of course he also extended his overall lead and won the race ahead of Silvan Dillier (BMC) and Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar).

 

Until today, the Tour de Wallonie had been a bittersweet experience for Gianni Meersman. On one hand, he had scored lots of bonus seconds and managed to build up a comfortable lead in the overall standings. On the other hand, he had been unable to take that elusive stage win and had finished second in the first four stages.

 

On the final day, however, he could forget all his travails as everything came together for him in the queen stage. Meersman finally broke his drought when he won the sprint from a 40-rider group at the end which of course also allowed him to take the overall victory in the race where he finished second two years ago.

 

However, it was no easy stage for Meersman as the finale was virtually identical to the one known from Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The Cote de la Rouche-aux-Faucons, Cote de Saint-Nicolas and Cote de Ans featured prominently in the finale and the only difference compared to the Belgian classic was the fact that there was another flat 4km after the top of the final climb.

 

Meersman suffered immensely on the final three climbs and was riding in the rear end of the bunch which meant that his teammates could not ride too fast. That put them on defensive when Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) who was arguably the strongest rider in the race, escaped on his own.

 

The Belgian youngster managed to build an advantage of 30-seconds but after some time the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team got organized. Julian Alaphilippe, Pieter Serry, Wout Poels and Zdenek Stybar both nurtured their captain and had enough left in the tank to gradually reel Wellens and neutralize the subsequent attacks.

 

In the end, Serry and Stybar gave Meersman a perfect lead-out but the race leader had to respond when Lampaert surprised him by doing a long sprint. However, Meersman had enough left to accelerate an extra time and powered clear to take a convincing victory.

 

His overall win was equally convincing as he beat Silvan Dillier (BMC) by 33 seconds while Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) was 4 seconds further adrift in third. Meersman was of course also the winner of the points classification while Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty) and Zico Waeytens (Topsport Vlaanderen) won the mountains and sprint classifications respectively. Silvan Dillier (BMC) was the best young rider while Omega Pharma-Quick Step was the strongest team.

 

The queen stage

After two hilly stages that were both decided in bunch sprint, the Tour de Wallonie was decided in its queen stage which brought the riders over 180.6km from Malmedy to Ans. After a relatively easy start with two smaller climbs, things got harder in the middle section when the riders tackled three ascents. However, it was the finale that made the race look like a small classic as the final kilometres were almost identical to Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Having passed the Cote du Hornay, the riders did the classical La Doyenne finale with the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons , Cote de Saint-Nicolas and Cote de Ans but unlike the Belgian classic, the stage finished 4km after the top of the latter climb.

 

After two days in the rain, the riders took the start in dry weather conditions. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) who had animated yesterday’s finale was the only rider who didn’t sign in this morning.

 

A fast start

As it has been the case in all stages, the start was a very fast one and it took some time for the break to be established. Dan Craven (Europcar) and Maxime Anciaux (Wallonie) were the first riders to give it  a try and when they were brought back, Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r) and KOM leader Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty) made a similarly ill-fated attempt.

 

On the first climb, Van Melsen attacked again and he was joined by Hugo Houle (Ag2r), Vegard Stake Laengen (Bretagne), Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Anciaux to form a 6-rider front group. The Belgian won the first KOM sprint ahead of Anciaux and Laengen to extend his lead in the mountains classification.

 

Bos abandons

Antoine Duchesne (Europcar) managed to bridge the gap to make it 7 riders in the front group while Theo Bos decided to leave the race, leaving just two Belkin riders in the field. Meanwhile, the front group fought hard to build a bigger advantage and when Houle beat Van Hoecke and Fouchard in the first intermediate sprint, the gap had reached 2.20.

 

Ludwig De Winter (Color Code) set off in pursuit and for a while he was a lone chaser. He managed to bring his deficit down to 48 seconds but finally surrendered and fell back to the peloton.

 

Points for Van Melsen

The peloton allowed the gap to reach a maximum of 3.18 but as they hit the second climb, Trek and OPQS started to control the situation. While Van Melsen again scored maximum points, leading Van Hoecke and Anciaux over the top, the advantage started to come down, reaching 2.45 at the bottom of the first category 1 climb.

 

Here Van Melsen again took maximum points, beating Anciaux, Duchesne, Houle and Laengen into the minor position and the Wanty rider also scored maximum points on the fifth climb. In the second intermediate sprint, Houle beat Van Hoecke and Fouchard.

 

Trek and OPQS combine forces

In the peloton, Danilo Hondo, Boy Van Poppel (both Trek), Andrew Fenn and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (both OPQS) set the pace and kept the gap between the 3- and 3-minute marks. Inside the final 70km, they started to accelerate and with 60km to go, they had reduced their deficit to 1.25.

 

The escapees managed to react nicely and reopen their advantage to 1.40 but as they approached the first of the four climbs in the finale, their gap melted away. With 40km to go, they were just 30 seconds ahead but they managed to prevent the peloton from contesting the final intermediate sprint.

 

The break splits up

Van Hoecke beat Fouchard and Anciaux in the battle for the bonus seconds while Van Poppel and Hondo had now swung off, leaving the work to Van Keirsbulck and Fenn. As soon as they hit the climb, the break split in two, with Houle, Fouchard and Van Hoecke dropping back to the peloton.

 

Duchesne tried to attack his companions but dropped off when Van Melsen launched a counterattack. Meanwhile, first Fenn and later Van Keirsbulck blew up, meaning that the work was now left to Lotto Belisol.

 

Boaro and Dron take off

On the lower slopes of the climb, Van Melsen dropped his companions while Manuele Boaro and Boris Dron attacked from the peloton. They passed the lone leader to form a strong front duo.

 

Laengen was still in between the peloton and the leader as OPQS had again taken over the pace-setting with Alaphilippe. Edwig Cammaert (Cofidis) and Gregory Habeaux (Wanty) bridged the gap to the Norwegian but when Lotto hit the front of the peloton, that trio was brought back.

 

The peloton explodes

Kris Boeckmans and Jens Debusschere took some amazing turns on the front to lead the peloton onto the Roche-aux-Fauconx where Pim Ligthart accelerated hard to blow the peloton to pieces. While Boaro dropped Dron, Ligthart, Jelle Vanenert, Maxime Monfort, Wellens, Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty); Dillier, Stybar, Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) and Matti Breschel (Tinkoff) got a gap.

 

Wellens took over the pace-setting, leaving just Stybar, Dillier, Monfort and Vanendert on his wheel. The latter two fell off the pace and so Wellens, Stybar and Dillier crested the summit as the leaders after having passed Boaro.

 

Wellens attacks

Boaro joined forces with Vanendert and Monfort and the trio bridged the gap to the front. With three Lotto riders, however, there was no cooperation and with 22km to go, OPQS brought the group back.

 

Laurent Didier (Trek) and Ligthart made an unsuccessful attack before Wellens tried again. OPQS didn’t respond and Wellens started to build a gap. Laurent Pichon (FDJ) tried to bridge the gap but had no success.

 

OPQS hit the panic button

Serry, Poels and Alaphilippe chased as hard as they could but with 16km to go, the gap was still 25 seconds. This forced them to hit the panic button and so Stybar also started to contribute to the pace-setting.

 

A brief lull in the peloton allowed Wellens to reopen his gap from 20 to 30 seconds but disaster struck for him at the bottom of the Saint-Nicolas when he dropped his chain. He managed to put it back on but lost a chunk of his advantage.

 

Lotto mark all attacks

Laurent Evrard (Wallonie) launched an attack but was passed by the Movistar pair of Enrique Sanz and Andrey Amador. The Costa Rican dropped his teammate while the attacking continued behind.

 

Jonathan Hivert (Belkin) attacked but Vanendert marked him closely and just as they had bridged the gap to Amador, Alaphilippe, Serry and Poels had brought them back. Kochetkov was the next to try unsuccessfully but at the top Wellens was the only rider ahead of the peloton with a 20-second advantage.

 

Wellens is caught

A BMC rider attacked but again Lotto marked it closely. Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty), Sebastien Delfosse (Wallonie) and Dider were the next to try but it was Florian Senechal (Cofidis) who got a significant gap.

 

OPQS had again got organized and brought the young Frenchman back and on the lower slopes of the climb in Ans, Wellens and Thomas Degand (Wanty) who had attacked, were caught. Didier was the next to try by Stybar, Degand, two FDJ riders and Nick van der Lijke (Belkin) bridged the gap.

 

OPQS take control

At the top, things were back together and the final attack was launched by Vanendert and Amador. When Stybar had brought it back, OPQS hit the front with Alaphilippe, Poels, Stybar and Serry and from there they maintained a high pace all the way to the finish.

 

Serry led the peloton under the flamme rouge while the sprinters battled for position behind Meersman. Stybar led Meersman out and the race leader responded greatly to Lampaert’s acceleration to finally take that elusive stage win and secure himself the overall victory.

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