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Slovakian narrowly beats the world champion in a sprint after having been forced to do all the work inside the final 2km

Photo: Sirotti




10.04.2013 @ 17:43 Posted by Adam Aisen

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) delivered a fantastic foretaste of Sunday's Amstel Gold Race classics in today's Brabantse Pijl. In the end, the Slovakian narrowly held off the world champion in a sprint after an impressive display of strength inside the final kilometres of the race.


Peter Sagan has not slowed any down during his 9-day absence from competition and Philippe Gilbert has benefited greatly from his participation in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and seems to be ready for his major targets in the Ardennes classics. These are the main conclusions from today's warm-up race, the Brabantse Pijl.


However, the world champion had any reason to be worried ahead of Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. The Slovakian took his second victory in a semi-classic this year after his earlier win in the Gent-Wevelgem by showing superior strength in the final of the race.


By following an acceleration form Gilbert's teammate Greg Van Avermaet on a climb with 18km remaining, the duo managed to escape the peloton's clutches. Joined later by Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano), the quintet quickly closed the gap to a 6-man front group consisting of Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil), Paul Voss (NetApp-Endura), Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Stijn Devolder (Radioshack), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Kenny Dehaes (Lotto-Belisol).


The team cooperated well to keep an advantage of around 30 seconds to the peloton in which Katusha and Saxo-Tinkoff desperately tried to get back in contention. The team's captains, Karsten Kroon, Niki Sørensen and Simon Spilak, had all missed the move.


On a descent with less than 4km remaining, Chavanel attacked. Knowing that he had no chance against the likes of Sagan or Gilbert on the final climb whose top was located just 200 meters from the line, the Frenchman tried to get clear of his rivals.


Sagan closed it down easily but moments later Maes and Van Avermaet managed to get clear. With Gilbert having a teammate in the front duo and Sagan the major favourite, nobody wanted to cooperate with the Slovakian who had to all the pace-making himself.


On the final climb of the Schavei, the Slovakian managed to close the gap to Van Avermaet - who had dropped Maes - by keeping a steady pace with Gilbert and Leukemans in his wheel. As soon as he reached the BMC rider, he put down the hammer and momentarily he gapped both of his rivals.


Gilbert managed to fight back on and as the duo slowed down, Leukemans got back on. However, they did not enjoy the Belgian's presence for a long time since Gilbert opened his sprint inside the final 200 meters. Sagan kept his wheel and managed to pass the world champion just meters before the line. Despite his big workload, he still had the power to beat one of the strongest Ardennes riders in the sprint.


Leukemans crossed the line moments later to take the final spot on the podium while Chavanel beat Geschke in the sprint for 4th.


Gilbert will get a chance to take his revenge on Sunday when both Sagan and the world champion line up in the first of the Ardennes classics, the Amstel Gold Race.



An aggressive start

The semi-classic Brabantse Pijl marks the transition from the cobbled to the Ardennes classics and is the perfect warm-up race for the riders looking to excel in the hilly one-day races. The 200km course started in Leuven and after a 130km opening stretch with 10 climbs along the way, the riders had to tackle three laps of a 24km finishing circuit containing no less than 5 climbs. The top of final of the 25 ascents, the Schavei, was located just 200 meters from the finish making it a very hard end to an already challenging race.


On a course difficult to control, most teams wanted to join the early breakaway and as a consequence, the race was off to a fast start. During the first 70km all attempts were unsuccessful but finally 6 riders managed to escape the peloton's clutches. Yousef Reguigui (MTN), Ben Hermans (Radioshack), Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis), Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthCare), Maes and Dehaes managed to build up a gap of almost 5 minutes before Vacansoleil and later Garmin started to bring it down.


Martin and Veuchelen set the pace

As they approached the final circuit, the gap has been brought down to less than 3 minutes. After Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) had done most of the early work, it was now his teammate Frederik Veuchelen and Daniel Martin (Garmin) setting a hard pace, the latter putting in his final preparations ahead of the Ardennes classics.


Moments later, Garmin went on the offensive as Nathan Haas escaped the peloton. He caught and passed Reguigui who had been dropped by his companions, and for a long time the Australian tried to gain contact with the front group.


In the peloton, there was plenty of nervousness and the battle for position was intense. Attacks went thick and fast but nobody managed to escape the attentive peloton.


Cannondale show their intentions

The Cannondale team of pre-race favourite Sagan took control with 60km remaining to make sure that none of the many attacks would get anywhere. Edward King set the pace while Sagan stayed attentive near the front.


With 50km remaining, Devolder exploited a moment of hesitation in the peloton to go off the front. He chased for a number of kilometres and managed to close the gap to the front group in solo fashion.


Meanwhile, the first of the pre-race favourites showed his intentions. Leukemans attacked with 48km to go and was joined by Voss and later Malacarne. The trio managed to close the gap and thus the front group now consisted of 11 riders.


Leukemans working hard

Leukemans was extremely strong and his hard pace on the climbs meant that Ghyselinck, Deignan and Hermans were all dropped and caught by the peloton. Meanwhile, Cannondale still tried to keep control of the peloton but they still had to tackle a flurry of attacks.


Gilbert and Sagan both had untimely mechanicals and the chase was somewhat interrupted by the Slovakian's delay. In the front, more favourites started to play their cards as Chavanel and Spilak both tried to get clear.


Sørensen managed to escape the peloton and he tried to close the gap on his own. However, he had an unfortunate puncture and was again caught by the peloton.


As the peloton started the last lap, it was the Argos-Shimano team of Geschke to set the pace at the front of the peloton in an attempt to set up the fast German for the victory. Meanwhile, pre-race favourites Davide Rebellin (CCC) and Tony Gallopin (Radioshack) both had mechanicals at the most crucial time.


Van Avermaet on the attack

With 18km to go Van Avermaet accelerated on the Hertstraat climb with Gilbert in his wheel. Sagan joined the moved easily and later Chavanel and Geschke closed the gap. The 5-man move cooperated smoothly and they caught the 6-rider front group.


Behind, Sørensen once again tried to close the gap on his own and he got rather close. However, he failed in his attempt and was brought back by a chase group consisting of defending champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil), Spilak and Gallopin. This group was, however, short-lived and with 10km to go, they were caught by the peloton.


In the front, the cooperation was good and the group managed to keep a stable gap of 30-40 seconds to the peloton which was led by Katusha and Saxo-Tinkoff. With 4km to go, harmony was broken as Chavanel attacked on the descent from the penultimate climb, thus kicking off an attacking final in which Sagan came out triumphant.



1. Peter Sagan

2. Philippe Gilbert

3. Bjorn Leukemans

4. Sylvain Chavanel

5. Simon Geschke

6. Greg Van Avermaet

7. Davide Malacarne

8. Stijn Devolder

9. Paul Voss

10. Kenny Dehaes



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