Tour de Wallonie: Trentin takes stage four, Meersman extends lead
Etixx – Quick-Step put in a flawless display on the penultimate stage of the Belgian race and made another step towards winning the GC.
A smiling and confident Gianni Meersman came at the start line in Aubel for stage four of the Tour de Wallonie, determined to do everything he could in order to retain his yellow jersey. Leader of the overall standings, in the same time with second placed Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), the 30-year-old showed his intentions early on the stage, by going for the first intermediate sprint of the day, in Spa, where he took two seconds, before a breakaway of nine snapped the elastic and surged ahead: Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Clément Chevrier (IAM Cycling), Thomas Deruette (Wallonie-Bruxelles), Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Yann Guyot (Armée de Terre), Quentin Jauregui (AG2R), Dimitri Peyskens (Veranclassic-Ago), Laurent Pichon (FDJ) and Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen).
As soon as they got clear, Etixx – Quick-Step took command of the peloton to protect Meersman and keep the escapees on a leash. All of the team's riders, including green jersey Tom Boonen, took some long pulls at the front and made sure that the advantage of the men up the road won't go too far north of three minutes, as the team was eyeing the stage victory and the important bonus seconds which were waiting for the top three on the line. The course was the toughest the bunch had faced at this edition so far, with eight categorized climbs, but our squad stamped its authority on the race and reabsorbed the breakaway, while at the same time covering all the attacks launched inside the closing kilometers, when the bunch was already split to pieces due to the hilly terrain.
One of these moves came in the final two kilometers, as Antoine Warnier (Wallonie-Bruxelles) tried his luck and took a six-second advantage, before being reeled in by the strong Yves Lampaert. Then Matteo Trentin stepped in and launched a powerful lead-out for Gianni Meersman with 500 meters to go, but Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R) squeezed between the two and threatened the stage victory, so the 26-year-old Italian kept on going and held off his opponent, taking his second win of the season, after the one he nabbed on stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia.
"We worked hard today from the beginning of the stage, as attacks were coming from all over the place. It wasn't easy, but the team was up there every time and showed its intentions. In the sprint, I tried to set up Gianni, but as the AG2R rider was trying to come around, I kept going with my sprint and crossed the finish line first. I just came off a 15-day altitude camp in Livigno, my shape is really good and I'm very happy for this win. Tomorrow, we will be all in for Gianni and we will protect and help him come out on top", said Matteo Trentin, the new green jersey of the race, who brought Etixx – Quick-Step its 39th victory of the season.
By finishing the stage in third position for his second podium finish of the week, Gianni Meersman is now enjoying a more comfortable cushion in the Tour de Wallonie general classification over his closest challenger, Dimitri Claeys, six seconds separating them ahead of the final day of the event. If the 30-year-old will retain the yellow jersey which he seized on Monday at the end of the complicated stage 5 (Engis – Dison, 188 kilometers) – which includes 11 classified climbs, some of which ramp up to 8% – the Belgian will become just the second rider to win twice the race which in the past years has been a source of many good moments for Etixx – Quick-Step.