Petr Vakoc wins Brabantse Pijl
The 23-year-old took the victory in the Belgian race after a stellar work of teammate Julian Alaphilippe and a perfectly-timed attack inside the final kilometer.
The Ardennes are here to stay for the next 10 days, and as was the case in recent seasons, the campaign kicked-off on Wednesday, at Brabantse Pijl, a 205-km long race between Leuven and Overijse, which this year welcomed the riders for its 56th edition. After numerous attempts, it was with 179 kilometers to go that four men managed to get clear – Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon18), Alberto Cecchin (Team Roth), Sergey Nikolaev (Gazprom-RusVelo) and Oliver Zaugg (IAM Cycling) – and open a maximum advantage of 5:30 on the peloton led by BMC and Orica-GreenEdge.
Inside the final 100 kilometers, the gap began to drop and the escapees were eventually caught, just as the bunch exploded due to a series of attacks which saw, among others, also Pieter Serry try his luck. All these were to no avail in the end, because the pack got organized and pushed a hard pace in order to bring everyone back together. Then, Julian Alaphilippe and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) went for it under the 20 km banner and stayed at the front for 15 minutes, before being reeled in. Just as the junction was made, Gianni Meersman, Pieter Weening (Roompot Oranje) and Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) also gave it a go, adding an extra spice to this already spectacular race.
After they were reabsorbed with just a few kilometers remaining out of the 56th Brabantse Pijl, a group of five took off on the penultimate climb of the day: Julian Alaphilippe, Petr Vakoč, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and David Tanner (IAM Cycling). The peloton wasn't far behind, but despite the combined work of the chasing teams, the attackers couldn't be brought back, the main reason being that Julian gave it his all and did some amazing pulls at the front, up until the final 600 meters of the race.
That's were Petr Vakoč made his move and surged ahead, his strong attack leading immediately to a substantial gap, which was enough for the Etixx – Quick-Step rider to become the first Czech winner of the Belgian classic in more than half of century. The podium was rounded out by Gasparotto and Gallopin, while Julian Alaphilippe, despite his big and impressive effort in the closing kilometers, still had enough resources to finish in 8th place.
At the press conference, Petr was keen to underline that this victory – number 22 for Etixx – Quick-Step in 2016 – came as a result of an excellent teamwork, which saw every rider bring his contribution throughout the day:
It's really amazing! I am grateful to the team for its incredible work and for having faith in me. The guys supported me, rode for me and I am happy to repay them with this victory.
"Julian was very important in the final kilometers, where he did a fantastic job. He's a good friend of mine, as we know each other since the U23 years. We are roommates during races, and yesterday we talked of what we could do today, and now it's great to see how things have panned out."
One of the pre-race favourites, the 23-year-old played his cards patiently as the race developed at a fast pace in the last hour and scored his third victory of the season, following the ones he got in February, at Classic Sud-Ardèche and La Drôme Classic: "In the last kilometers, I noticed that the others were fading, so I went full gas at the bottom of the climb, also because I wanted to get some seconds in hand and make sure the peloton will not come back. These steep climbs suit me well and I gave it all to make the gap. It's probably the biggest win of my career and I'm very content with this result, because I was targeting Brabantse since the start of the year. It's a beautiful victory, which comes after countless hours of training, but also as a result of the work I've done on my endurance, a key factor in this regard being last year's Giro d'Italia. Now I look toward Amstel Gold Race with even more confidence, because the form is there and my legs are strong."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele