Meersman tops the Tour de Wallonie GC
The bonus seconds he grabbed on stage 3 helped the Belgian keep the yellow jersey within the team.
Etixx – Quick-Step had a plan at the start of the day, and that was holding onto the overall lead of the Tour de Wallonie. Tom Boonen was first in the overall standings, following the victory he got on Saturday and the second place he nabbed one day later, but with the tough course which was awaiting the peloton on stage 3, he was aware there's a strong chance he will have to concede the yellow jersey. For that reason, the team controlled all the attacks in first hour and a half of racing and made sure of setting up Gianni Meersman for the intermediate sprint, where the 30-year-old nabbed two seconds.
Things calmed down after that sprint and three riders got a green light from the bunch to go into the escape – Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Vladimir Isaytchev (Team Katusha) and Benoit Sinner (Armée de Terre) – and fight for the categorized climbs on the course between Braine-l'Alleud and Vielsalm (200.6 kilometers). With 30 kilometers to go, they were reabsorbed and Etixx – Quick-Step tried to force a selection, at one point splintering the peloton, but the chasers managed to bridge across before the final classified ascent of the day.
On the 4.5-km long hill, Katusha went all in with a two-pronged attack, but Etixx – Quick-Step reacted immediately and brought the duo back. The skirmishes continued and two other men powered away, managing to stay clear until under the flamme rouge arch, when the peloton – which was counting some 30-odd riders – came back. In the final 200 meters, Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) was the first to accelerate, sparking the sprint of Gianni Meersman, who dashed to the line and took second place, behind his countryman, but ahead of Jonathan Hivert (Fortuneo-Vital Concept). The bonus seconds he got on Monday pushed Gianni Meersman into the yellow jersey, which he took from Tom Boonen, who held since Saturday. For his part, Tom retained the green jersey, which rewards the leader of the points classification.
"Today the start was quite hard, so it became difficult to control the attacks, but the team stayed at the front all day long and did a fantastic job. The last climb was tough and the guys worked hard to keep it together for me. I missed the victory for half of wheel, but I am happy for getting the yellow jersey. My condition is good and I will try to defend the lead over the next two stages, because I want to win the Tour de Wallonie", said Gianni Meersman, the 2014 champion.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele