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Having been part of a 25-rider break from the beginning of the race, Van Hecke beat Roelandts in a two-rider sprint to take a surprise win at the Belgian championships; Van Avermaet completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

GREG VAN AVERMAET

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JURGEN ROELANDTS

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NATIONAL CHAMPIONSSHIPS

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PREBEN VAN HECKE

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SPORT VLAANDEREN - BALOISE

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28.06.2015 @ 17:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) created a major surprise when he won today’s Belgian road race championships after an impressive performance over the 252km race in Tervuren. Having joined a 25-rider breakaway already on the first lap, he finally beat final companion Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) in a two-rider sprint while Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) had to settle for third after a late bid to get across.

 

Going into the Belgian road race championships, everybody was talking about the likes of Greg Van Avermaet, Tom Boonen, Jens Debusschere, Kris Boeckmans and Sep Vanmarcke. Topsport Vlaanderen were looming as a strong outsider with Edward Theuns but no one had even mentioned the name of Preben Van Hecke.

 

However, the 32-year-old veteran created a massive surprise when he came out on top and earned himself the right to wear the famous drikleur during the next 12 months. He did what most thought to be impossible when he completed a breakaway that had started already on the first 18km lap of the lumpy circuit in successful fashion.

 

Van Hecke attacked right from the start of the race as he joined the early 25-rider move with four of his teammates. He survived the gradual elimination until he only had Jurgen Roelandts for company.

 

Etixx-QuickStep worked hard to bring the pair back and seemed to have everything under control at the start of the final lap. However, when the attacking among the favourites started, there was no domestiques left to bring the front duo bad and with no cooperation, the race was over for pre-race favourite Boonen.

 

Instead, it was Van Avermaet who emerged as the strongest from that group as he escaped on a late climb and got to within 10 seconds of leaders before he cracked. With 3km to go, it was apparent that he wouldn’t make it and it came down to a 2-rider sprint.

 

In the finale, Van Hecke made a gamble by not taking any turns, knowing that Roelandts was the fastest. The Lotto Soudal rider started the sprint from the front but it was Van Hecke who was in a class of his own, having plenty of time to celebrate his win.

 

Van Hecke will now wear the drikleur for a year and will get his first chance to do so on home soil when the Tour de Wallonie starts on July 25.

 

How it unfolded

The 2015 Belgian road race championships were held on an 18km circuit around the city of Tervuren that the riders would cover 14 times for an overall distance of 252km. With several turns, it was a very technical affair with a few small climbs, including the Horenberg helling at the 5km mark. The finishing straight was slightly uphill.

 

It was a cloudy, dry and relatively hot day when the riders gathered for the start in Tervuren to find out who’s going to wear the Belgian drikleur during the coming 12 months. As usual, it was a fast start with a huge tactical battle where all the major teams tried not to be caught out and be forced to ride defensively.

 

The opening skirmishes resulted in the formation of a very big 25-rider that quickly got a gap of more than a minute. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Kenny Dehaes, Thomas De Gendt, Jasper De Buyst, Jurgen Roelandts, Tosh van der Sande, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb), Amaury Capiot, Kenny De Ketele, Edward Theuns, Preben Van Hecke, Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen), Tom Devriendt, Jan Ghyselinck (Wanty), Maarten Wynants (LottoNL-Jumbo), Olivier Chevalier, Gregory Habeaux, Ludwig De Winter, Tom Dernies (Wallonie), Rob Peeters, Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice), Diether Sweeck (Corendon) and Xandro Meurisse (An Post) were given some leeway by the peloton after half an hour of racing.

 

At the second passage of the Horenberg, the gap had gone out to 1.25. With Lotto Soudal being the driving force in the breakaway, it had gone out to 5.09 minutes at the second passage of the finish line. At this point, Björn Leukemans (Wanty) worked his way back to the peloton after a mechanical.

 

The peloton was in no hurry and at the end of the third lap, they had been distanced by a massive seven minutes. It reached a maximum of 7.22 before Wanty-Groupe Gobert started to chase, with Boris Dron doing the early work.

 

BMC also came to the fore to lend Wanty a hand and that had an impact on the gap which dropped to below 7 minutes. Moments later, the lanky figure on Stijn Vandenbergh was also spotted on the front, taking turns for Etixx-QuickStep.

 

Vandenbergh, Loic Vliegen (BMC) and Francis De Greef (Wanty) did most of the work in the early part to gradually bring the gap down. With 142km to go, it was 5 minutes and at the halfway point, it was 4.43.

 

With 100km to go, the distance started to take its toll as the many Lotto riders applied the pressure in the front group. Vervaeke took some huge turns that sent both Sweeck and De Winter out the back door. In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep had added more firepower to the chase as Pieter Serry was also working on the front and they were now just 2.50 behind.

 

At the next passage of the finish line, the attacking started when De Buyst accelerated and he was quickly joined by Vervaeke, Van Keirsbulck, Van Hecke and Ghyselinck. Wynants brought them back but the group had split.

 

Van Hecke and Theuns were the only riders from Topsport to have made the selection while Lotto Soudal still had Roelandts, van der Sande, De Buyst and Dehaes.  The group split again as Roelandts took a huge turn and only van Aert, Van Keirsbulck, van der Sande and Van Hecke could keep up with him.

 

Teuns and Dehaes rejoined the group while Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) accelerated in the peloton, sending several riders out the back door. That spelled the end for the hard-working domestiques and so the pace went down, allowing the gap to grow to 3 minutes.

 

Roelandts, van der Sande and van Hecke dropped their companions while Keisse, Habeaux and De Buyst made it back to those four riders. However, the 10 riders came back together with 77km to go at a point when Wanty had taken complete control in the peloton.

 

Van der Sande and Van Hecke attacked at the next passage of the Horenberg and Roelandts made a big surge to join them. They quickly got a big advantage while Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) started an attacking phase in the peloton. He was joined by Johan Vansummeren (Ag2r), Serry and Tim Wellens 8Lotto Soudal) but they were quickly brought back.

 

Etixx-QuickStep again took control of the peloton with Serry before Stijn Devolder (Trek) arracked, Vansummeren, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r), Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) and Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) all followed the move but they didn’t get clear.

 

Pauwels, Vanbilsen and Meersman attacked again and passed Habeaux who had been dropped. Howeverm they didn’t have any luck either and so Wanty again took over the pace-setting with Backaert.

 

With 3 laps to go, the chasers had been distanced by 45 seconds while the peloton was at 2.50. Wanty were losing most of their riders and so Jerome Baugnies tried an unsuccessful attack before the peloton came to a standstill, opening the door for Tim Declercq (Topsport) and Jim Aernouts (Sunweb) to try a move.

 

Finally, Etxx-QuickStep decided to go all in for Boonen as they put Yves Lampaert and Serry on the front. Their fast pace made the peloton explode to pieces and they gradually started to get closer to the front trio.

 

With 40km to go, the gap was 2.35 and here the chase group was caught. Keisse and Van Keirsbulck started to work with their two teammates and so the gap was only 2 minutes at the start of the penultimate lap.

 

With 34km to go, van der Sande blew up, leaving just Roelandts and Van Hecke in the front group. Moments later they hit the Horenberg and here Bakelants launched an unsuccessful attack.

 

Only 20 riders were left in the peloton as they crested the summit and this opened the door for new attacks. Bakelants and Devolder took off and were joined by Dimitri Claeys (Verandas) before a regrouping to place in the peloton.

 

Julien Vermote started to work for Etixx-QuickStep to keep the chase trio at 10 seconds. Less than 40 riders were left as they entered the final 20km with a deficit of 1.10 to the leaders and 10 seconds to the chasers.

 

Meersman started to work with Vermote as they started the final lap with a deficit of 1.5 and when he blew up, Nikolas Mes took over. Moments later Ben Hermans hit the front to set Van Avermaet up for an attack and his fast pace brought the chasers brack.

 

Van Avermaet accelerated hard on the Horenberg and was only followed by Boonen, Vanmarcke and Leukemans. Debusschere joined the move that was now only 25 seconds behind the leaders.

 

Van Avermaet, Boonen, Vanmarcke and Leukemans traded pulls before Boeckmans, Tiesj Benoot, Jelle Wallays and Gijs Van Hoecke joined them. Just as this happened, Van Avermaet attacked again and this time he got clear.

 

While more riders joined the chase group, there were constant attacks as most of the riders either had a teammate ahead or was isolated. Van Avermaet got to within 10 seconds of the leaders before he again started to lose ground.

 

None of the many attacks in the chase group had success before Wallays finally got clear. He briefly seemed to make it across to Van Avermaet but finally he cracked.

 

With 5km to go, Van Avermaet was again only 10 seconds behind the leaders but he would not get any closer. In the end he had to settle for third while Van Hecke beat Roelandts in the sprint.

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