Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), the hero of last year’s Tour De France, has won the Belgian De Brabantse Pijl semi-classic.
Voeckler soloed to victory in the Belgian town of Overijse attacking from 35 kilometres out to hold off the challenge of Belgian duo, Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol).
In a typically gutsy performance, Voeckler battled the elements as well as the peloton to cross the line 1.11 ahead of Katusha’s Oscar Freire, to win a race featuring 28 climbs from which only 44 of 179 riders finished.
Speaking to Belgian newspaper, Sporza, Voeckler said the difficulty of riding in a peloton on wet roads had inspired his attack. “I figured some would come back but that didn’t happen. I wanted to get a gap of a minute as soon as possible to take away the believe in the chase group. I’ve got the legs for these races. “I would love to do a good result at the Amstel Gold Race but this result doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a specific goal because there’s a lot of strong men at the start,” he said.
Second-placed Oscar Freire, three times a winner of Brabantse Pijl, paid tribute to Voeckler.
“Voeckler was the strongest today. He did a great action and he deserved to win. Unfortunately we let him go at the beginning of his attack; then, when he had already 1´ over us we started to chase him but it was too late. Maybe nobody wanted to risk with this slippery road, considering Ardennes Classic races start very soon,” he said.
The three-time world road race champion said he was in good shape for Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, and marked out teammate Joaquim Rodriguez, runner-up in last week’s Tour of the Basque Country, as a rider suited to the finish.
Freire had led the pursuit of Voeckler with Vanendert and a group containing BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, who was fifth, ahead of teammate and world number one, Philippe Gilbert, who recorded his best result of a difficult season by finishing twelfth.
“I stayed in my group to play the role of a good teammate,” said Gilbert. “I think today was good training with all the up and down and the intensity.”
Gilbert attacked in the closing stages in another show returning form, but other big names suffered a more difficult day.Peter Sagan (Liguigas-Cannondale), and the Omega Pharma-QuickStep pair of Jerome Pineau and Gerald Ciolek crashed separately at the same part of the finishing circuit.
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) crashed on a roundabout nearly 70km from the finish and took a long time to begin his pursuit of the peloton, losing three minutes on the peloton in 10km, and abandoning the race with an injured hand.
“The doctor said if my hand still hurts tomorrow I should have it x-rayed but I feel confident that there isn’t a problem. Before the crash I felt quite good. I was in good position, especially Joost and me. I’ve been lucky for two years with no crashes so I hope this was the last crash of the season,” he said.
1) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Team Europcar – 4.49.07
2) Oscar Freire (SPA) – Katusha + 1.11
3) Pieter Serry (BEL) – Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator
4) Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (COL) – Colombia-Coldeportes +1.14
5) Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing +1.17
6) Alex Howes (USA) – Garmin-Barracuda
7) Jelle Vanendert (BEL) – Lotto Belisol
8) Dries Devenyns (BEL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
9) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Rabobank +1.27
10) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Rabobank + 1.54