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Wout Van Aert wins three-up sprint to claim victory in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne debut

Wout van Aert completed another sweep of Opening Weekend for Visma-Lease A Bike after he outsprinted Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) and Oier Lazkano (Movistar) to win Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

A day after Jan Tratnik’s victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Visma-Lease A Bike again dictated the terms of engagement here, with the Dutch squad whittling down the peloton on the climb of Le Bourniquet before Van Aert launched what proved to be the winning move on the Mont Saint Laurent with 87km still to race.

Van Aert was joined by Wellens, Lazkano and New Zealander Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ), and they quickly established a working alliance and a clear lead.

“There was a tailwind in the finale, so I knew there was a chance we could get a gap in the hill zone and then hold a gap to the peloton,” Van Aert explained afterwards.

Pithie was later shaken loose by another Van Aert acceleration on the Trieu, but the leading trio continued to stretch out their advantage. They led a chasing group containing Pithie, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) and Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease A Bike) by three minutes as they entered the final 30km.

Van Aert’s form and pedigree as a sprinter meant he looked the likely winner as the kilometres ticked by, and he calmly shut down an attack from Wellens with 4km to go. Lazkano, who had been visibly flagging in the finale, still managed to summon up a game attack inside the flamme rouge. His effort, however, served only to provide an extended lead-out for Van Aert, who coolly dispatched Wellens in the sprint.

Visma-Lease A Bike’s dominance was sealed by European champion Christophe Laporte, who won the sprint for fourth after Mohoric et al. were caught on the finishing circuit.

“I’m really happy with this win and with the performance of this weekend,” said Van Aert, who notched up his second win of the campaign after a stage victory at the Volta ao Algarve. “I think it’s a great way to start the Classics season. As a team, we were really good. This was my first attempt at Kuurne and my first win.”

How it unfolded

When the peloton gathered in Kortrijk for the start of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday morning, Oliver Naesen (Decathlon-AG2R) had more than an inkling of how the day might play out. “War will be made,” Naesen said, doubtless mindful that Visma-Lease A Bike would look to dictate the terms of engagement, much as they did at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 24 hours earlier.

Van Aert had spent much of the day off the front on Saturday but in a curious, anarchic race, the final victory fell to his teammate Jan Tratnik, while he had to settle for third place. There was little doubt, however, that Van Aert would go again on Sunday as the focal point of the Visma-Lease A Bike attack.

The brisk early pace was another indication of how the race might play out, though a break featuring Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers), Fran Miholjević (Bahrain-Victorious), and Luca Mozzato (Arkea-B&B Hotels), Dries De Bondt (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Dstny) eventually managed to forge clear after more than hour or so of racing, as the peloton approached the sprinkling of climbs that so often determine how this Classic is contested.

Visma-Lease A Bike were present in numbers towards the head of the bunch, however, and it was clear that they were not going to allow the escapees much by way of leeway. With each short ascent, more bodies were shaken loose from the bunch, and the escapees were quickly reeled back in.

The Dutch squad continued to run through their scales on the eighth ascent, Le Bourliquet, where Dylan van Baarle’s steady but searing acceleration whittled the bunch down still further, with yellow and black jerseys duly lined up behind him. There were still 92km remaining, but this was the beginning of the endgame.

On the next climb, the Mont Saint-Laurent, Van Aert himself sprang into action, launching a vicious acceleration that only Wellens, the Spanish champion Lazkano and Pithie could follow. 87km from the finish, the winning move had already taken shape, and they extended their lead to more than half a minute over the following ascent of the Kruijsberg.

With 75km to go, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) set out in a forlorn counter-attack, marked by Van Aert’s teammate Matteo Jorgenson. They would later pick up Pithie, who was distanced when Van Aert launched another rasping acceleration on the Côte de Trieu, but there was nothing Mohoric could do to stem the flow. Come the final climb of the Kluisberg, with 61km still to race, Van Aert et al were almost two minutes clear.

“When Visma took it up first, I was too far back, and I had to use too much energy,” Mohoric admitted. “Then, when it exploded on the cobbles on Saint Laurent, I didn’t quite have it to be with the front four.”

With the climbs out of the way, the peloton was beginning to reorder itself, with Alpecin-Deceunick working to marshal a pursuit on behalf of Jasper Philipsen. Most years at Kuurne, this is the moment when one wonders if the bunch might yet fight its way back for a mass finish, but the question was already moot here. Van Aert, Wellens and Lazkano would extend their lead to three minutes over the Mohoric group by the time they entered the final 30km, with the fast men definitively out of the running.

As the kilometres ticked by, Lazkano began to look a little more ragged than his Belgian colleagues, but neither Wellens nor Van Aert was ever going to under-estimate the Spanish champion, who so impressed at Dwars door Vlaanderen a year ago.

Still, it was hard to shake off the idea that this race would prove a duel between Van Aert and Wellens, who had made such a striking effort to bridge up to the break on the Muur at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. They passed the finish line in Kuurne for the first time with 12.5km to go, holding a lead of 2:57 over Mohoric, Pithie and Jorgenson, while the peloton was 3:15 back.

In the final reckoning, Van Aert’s superiority brooked no argument, and he duly added another line to his palmarès. The prizes he really covets, however, are still over a month away.

After a truncated winter of cyclocross racing, Van Aert made his earliest start to a road season by lining out at the Clásica Jaén, but the Belgian will not compete again until E3 Harelbeke He will skip Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo in favour of a long stint of altitude training. His entire Spring is built around the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

“Of course, it’s really good for my confidence to win this race, but I also know it’s a very different race to the Classics that are coming,” Van Aert said. “It’s time to work again and try to become that last percentage better for the Monuments.”

Results

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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