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Belgian Championships - CN
Knokke-Heist, Belgium, June 1,29 and August 15-19 2008
Day 2 - June 29: Elite men road race, 246.6 km
Neo-pro Roelandts silences Quick Step
By Brecht Decaluwé in Knokke-Heist, Belgium
Jurgen Roelandts (Silence-Lotto) was the unexpected winner of the Belgian National Championships. The 22 year-old took the first professional victory of his career in a bunch sprint. He popped ahead of cyclo-cross specialist Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb Pro Job) and good old Niko Eeckhout (Topsport Vlaanderen) in coastal town Knokke, Belgium. The riders covered 254 kilometres on a flat but windy course.
The much disputed pre race favourite Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was not helped by his team-mate Wouter Weylandt who touched his rear wheel and crashed himself. Tornado Tom was then taken to the side of the road by Eeckhout and eventually finished fifth.
Roelandts, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday in three days, was overwhelmed by joy after crossing the finish line. "I really can't believe it... a whole year in the jersey ... my first victory," Roelandts started to realize that he would be wearing the "tricolore" for the next 365 days.
"I didn't see anything of the crash, it happened behind me," said Roelandts, who has always ridden for Lotto on its youth teams. He didn't turn pro until this year after he finished his studies, earning a bachelor of physical education and movement science. By claiming this victory Roelandts has shown that he dealt well with the transition from school to pro racing.
"It was each man for himself in the finale, but eventually I ended up on the wheel of Greg [Van Avermaet], and he piloted me splendidly; the whole team rode divinely today," Roelandts said to Cyclingnews while heading for the podium in Knokke. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, Roelandts didn't get to hear his national anthem, the Brabançonne, played after receiving his "tricolore" jersey and gold medal.
Runner-up Vanthourenhout crossed the line in disappointment, but an hour later, the cyclo-cross specialist was able to put things into perspective. "Due to the crash from Weylandt, I had to pass him on the left side and was forced to ride 100% into the wind. Then again, I had the road ahead of me and could start my sprint right away, which was a little too early," said the former Sunweb-Projob team-mate of Jonathan Page.
"It wasn't a mistake, but circumstances. If I could've stayed on Weylandt's wheel a little longer then I could've started my sprint a bit later, but would I have won?" Vanthourenhout asked. "I'm sitting next to the deserved winner, and I'm a bit annoyed that the circumstances weren't completely in my favour, but you will not hear me say that I would've beaten Roelandts."
Boonen had a rough last month after being caught doing cocaine, but at the start of the race in Knokke-Heist he received the warmest welcome from the fans. Someone from Boonen's town even walked from Baal to Knokke a trip of about 150 kilometres to support his hero in these troubled days. Tornado Tom was disappointed that he was unable to clinch the win to thank everybody.
"I think the guys from Silence-Lotto were in defense all day long and probably they were losing heart when we went to the front with our team in the finale," said Boonen. "Nevertheless Roelandts launched himself perfectly in the sprint and he is the well deserved winner," Boonen said after the race, while standing in the doorway of the Quick Step team bus surrounded by hundreds of fans. "It's a pity that I couldn't defend my chances too well, but you won't hear me say a bad word about that boy," Boonen applauded the winner from the Silence-Lotto team.
Weylandt took a couple of other riders down with him, like Jurgen Van Goolen (Team CSC) but Bert De Waele seemed to be the biggest victim with a broken collarbone.
Quadruple Belgian champion and winner of bunch sprints in the Tour de France, Tom Steels, rode the last race of his career. The 36 year-old sprinter rode an attentive race and was able to show himself in the finale when he played all or nothing without success. He finished in the belly of the peloton in thirtieth.
How it unfolded
Under chilly weather conditions, 98 Belgian elite men took the start in front of the casino in Knokke, a fashionable town at the North Sea. Under impulse of cyclo-cross rider Jan Verstraeten (Sunweb), an early breakaway group was formed after seven kilometres. He was joined by Bert Scheirlinckx (Landbouwkrediet), Kristof Goddaert (Topsport Vlaanderen), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), Sven Nevens (Mitsubishi) and local favourite Tom Stubbe (Française des jeux).
After three laps, the six leaders had a maximum lead of 6'30" on the peloton but after 100 kilometres they were caught back by the Silence-Lotto led peloton. Reigning champion Stijn Devolder attacked together with Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen), and later even on his own but he wasn't allowed much space.
Devolder was there again when a bunch of riders attacked a couple of kilometres further. This group snuck away after 85 kilometres and it included Jurgen Vandewalle, Sébastien Delfosse, Jan Kuyckx, Rob Peeters, Wouter Van Mechelen, Johan Coenen, Frederik Veuchelen, Igor Abakoumov, Gregory Habeaux, Geert Verheyen, Tom Stubbe, Benny De Schrooder and Sven Vanthourenhout. Their lead grew up to about a minute. There were no Silence-Lotto riders in the breakaway so again the team were forced to work in the peloton. With 65 kilometres to go, everybody was riding back together.
With 60 kilometres to go, there was an effort that went on until the last ten kilometres, including local boy Benny De Schrooder (Sean Kelly), Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet), Serge Pauwels (Topsport Vlaanderen) and big gun Nick Nuyens (Cofidis). The four riders had a maximum lead of 50 seconds, but with 17 kilometres to go they were reeled back in by a peloton and multiple attacks followed. Among those instigating were lesser known names like Wim De Vocht, Benjamin Gougue, Jarno Van Mingeroet, Tom Criel and Olivier Kaisen.
Nobody got away, and in the last ten kilometres other attacks followed from Gianni Meersman, cyclo-cross and mountain biker Sven Nys and Nico Sijmens but with the same result, namely a compact peloton where Quick Step and Silence-Lotto combined forces to set-up a bunch sprint for respectively Tom Boonen and Jurgen Roelandts or Greg Van Avermaet.
Philippe Gilbert tried his luck with five kilometres to go but he was counter attacked by Gert Steegmans, who didn't take pulls, and by not doing so, neutralized the effort from Gilbert. Devolder led the peloton in the final kilometres, and the late attack from Leif Hoste, followed by Tom Steels proved to be futile. Wouter Weylandt was leading out Boonen during the sprint, when a couple of riders hit the ground, but none of the first riders were involved.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Stijn Vercaemer /www.cyclingview.be
Images by Tim Van Wichelen/www.organicwax.be
1 Jurgen Roelandts (Silence-Lotto) 5.56.50 2 Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb Pro Job) 3 Niko Eeckhout (Topsport Vlaanderen) 4 Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) 5 Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 6 Kurt Hovelynck (Topsport Vlaanderen) 7 James Vanlandschoot (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 8 Kevin Pauwels (Fidea Cycling Team) 9 Iljo Keisse (Topsport Vlaanderen) 10 Wouter Van Mechelen (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 11 Benny De Schrooder (An Post-M. Donnelly-Grant Thornton-Sean Kelly Team) 12 Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone) 13 Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) 14 Frederick Nolf (Topsport Vlaanderen) 15 Igor Abakoumov (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 16 Gil Suray (Cycle Collstrop) 17 Kevin Neirynck (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 18 Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 19 Johan Coenen (Topsport Vlaanderen) 20 Koen Barbe (Topsport Vlaanderen) 21 Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) 22 Olivier Kaisen (Silence-Lotto) 23 Rosseler Sébastien (Quick Step) 24 Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux) 25 Sven Renders (Topsport Vlaanderen) 26 Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen) 27 Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) 28 Maarten Neyens (Topsport Vlaanderen) 29 Frederik Willems (Liquigas) 30 Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 31 Geert Omloop (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 32 Delfosse Sébastien (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 33 Maxime Monfort (Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone) 34 Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto) 35 Kevin De Weert (Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone) 36 Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone) 37 Nico Sijmens (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 38 Filip Meirhaeghe (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 39 Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale) 40 Kenny Van Der Schueren (Cycle Collstrop) 41 Bart Dockx (Silence-Lotto) 42 Wim De Vocht (Silence-Lotto) 43 Wilfried Cretskens (Quick Step) 44 Geert Verheyen (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 45 Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 46 Frederik Veuchelen (Topsport Vlaanderen) 47 Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen) 48 Dieter Vanthourenhout (Palmans Cras) 49 Steven De Neef (Davitamon Lotto Jong Vlaanderen) 50 Roy Sentjens (Silence-Lotto) 51 Jarno Van Mingeroet (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 52 Tom Criel (Cycle Collstrop) 53 Evert Verbist (Topsport Vlaanderen) 54 Gregory Habeaux (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 55 Gianni Meersman (Française Des Jeux) 56 Nick Ingels (Topsport Vlaanderen) 57 Serge Pauwels (Topsport Vlaanderen) 58 Bert De Waele (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 59 Jurgen Van Goolen (Team CSC) 60 Mathieu Criquielion (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 61 Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step) 62 Maxime Vantomme (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) 63 Kevin Hulsmans (Quick Step) 3.39 64 Kenny De Ketele (Topsport Vlaanderen) 65 Kevin Van Impe (Quick Step) 4.49 66 Benjamin Gourgue (Landbouwkrediet - Tonissteiner) 67 Nick Nuyens (Cofidis, le Credit Par Telephone) 68 Tom Stubbe (Française Des Jeux)