Tour de Wallonie Stage 5: Meersman Wins Stage & Overall, Extends Contract with OPQS Through 2016!
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team held off an assault on the yellow jersey in Tour de Wallonie 180.6km Stage 5 on Wednesday, with riders attacking constantly in the final 30 kilometers, and some climbs in the final making it a challenge to maintain good position in the peloton.
OPQS rider Gianni Meersman fought to keep himself in contention through the final climbs, as his teammates took to the front to control everything. Despite a dangerous attack by Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol), who went solo with about 21km to go and gained as much as almost 30" on the field, every move was brought back and the team put Meersman in perfect position for the bunch sprint.
Zdenek Stybar led out Meersman, and he went on to win the stage in the yellow jersey. Yves Lampaert (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) was 2nd, and Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing) was 3rd. Meersman had finished 2nd in the previous four stages, but extended his GC lead each day.
Meersman also won the points jersey.
Meersman's victory was the 50th, in three disciplines, for OPQS in 2014 (48th road).
Stybar, after being one of the tireless workers on the front marking every move possible, finished 10th in the stage and 9th in the overall. It was a total team effort finished off by a Belgian rider, for a Belgian based team, in a Belgian stage race.
"I am super happy about this victory," Meersman said. "Not only for the GC, but also the stage win because after being four times in second place. For me, it's important to be able to win this stage to finish off the great work of my teammates, and I did it, so I am thrilled. For me it's the second stage race win of my career after 2011 when I won at Circuit des Ardennes. Of course Tour de Wallonie was special as the level of the competition was really good. So, this victory gives me even more satisfaction. I'm happy also for the team because before the race I felt really good. A few days before the race I called Sport Director Rik Van Slycke and I told him I would like to try for the GC. So, I did it, and we took the GC after two days. It's a wonderful feeling to lead this team and have the team around me so we could win this race. My condition is good. This race opened up the second part of my season. My next race will be Clasica San Sebastian. I rode this race in 2012, when I earned a 3rd place finish in the overall. I raced only once there and was on the podium, so that gives me confidence. I like the parcours and I am really looking forward to this race on Saturday with this good condition."
OPQS is also happy to announce that they reached an agreement with Meersman on a contract extension of two years (2015 & 2016).
"Gianni is one of the team's snipers, a serious athlete who is always ready when the time comes, a guarantee for the team," OPQS CEO Patrick Lefevere said. "This year an accident at the Paris-Nice influenced the first part of his season. However, as you can see by his double win at Tour de Wallonie today, we are sure Gianni will be among the major players in the second part of the year, taking advantage of his intelligence in the race and his speed and sense of position in tight bunch sprints."
"Right from my first training with the team in winter of 2012 I immediately felt at ease, I felt really good in the group" Meersman said. "We have different nationalities but one common goal: To grow as a team. This is a real group where everyone looks out for the next guy. In my opinion this is really one of the team's strongest points. For the next two seasons I seek further personal growth both in terms of numbers and in quality of results. First, though, there is the second part of this season to face and I am off to a good start. After the accident in the Paris-Nice it wasn't easy to get back to my levels, even from a mental perspective. Now I have completely recovered and am in good condition after important training in Calpe, Spain, before this race. In the next few months the team and I have agreed that I will concentrate especially on the one day races, on the end of season classics. I will not be riding in the Vuelta, but I plan on being ready even for a possible participation in a World Championship that seems to be suited to my skills."