Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rick Zabel sprints to Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 glory

Rick Zabel taking the sprint...looks just like his dad, no?
(Photo via Het Nieuwsblad/Sportwereld)
After a day filled with wind, cobbles and attacks, Rick Zabel (Germany) was able to beat Dylan Groenewegen (Netherlands) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Denmark) in the final sprint of nearly 30 riders to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 Nations Cup. The strongly favored Belgians tried to play their hand with Jasper Stuyven but after multiple attacks were shut down, they had to settle for 4th in the sprint with Sean De Bie.

The action was hot as soon as the flagged dropped as multiple attacks tried to get an advantage. A group of 14 tried to get away early but only Alexis Gougeard (France) was able to get an advantage and the peloton was very willing to let the Frenchman get a healthy lead. By healthy, I mean that his advantage grew out to 7 minutes before the peloton decided to take any action.

The day's lone breakaway, Alexis Gougeard (France), on the Guilleminlaan in Geraardsbergen
(Photo via Twitter @NicoMattan)
The peloton finally decided to wake up with about 80 kilometers left in the day and once they started to ride, the gap quickly began to tumble. On the Valkenberg, Martin Olsen (Norway) started off the affairs by attacking the peloton. Olsen was brought back with 74km left but the gap to Gougeard was now just at 5'30". A crash in the peloton took out a few riders including Britain's Sam Harrison and sent Slovenia's Andrej Rajsp to the hospital.

Hill after hill, Gougeard's advantage tumbled as the peloton continued to pick up it's pace; spitting riders out the back as the selection was being made. As the peloton came back into Oudenaarde, Gougeard's advantage was no more; in just a little over 45 kilometers, his advantage went from nearly 7 minutes to naught.

As the peloton came back into Oudenaarde to start the final two loops of the Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg and Eikenberg, a group of seven attempted to get of the front. This group, including riders such as Gavin Mannion (USA), Stefan Küng (Suisse) and Tom Skujins (Latvia) got a gap but once the race hit the Steenbeekdries, their gap was eliminated.

Kristian Haugaard Jensen (Denmark) attacked on the Taaienberg, the same berg which Tom Boonen has used as a launch pad on multiple occasions, and remained solo for a few kilometers before he was joined by Jimmy Turgis (France) and Mannion. The trio held a gap over the Eikenberg (35km to go) while Edward Theuns (Belgium) and Toms Skujins (Latvia) attacked and pursued the leading trio. The chasing duo was brought back into the fold but after Mannion flatted out of the break, the leading duo of Jensen and Turgis maintained a 25 second gap across the finish line with one lap left to go.

As the race headed up the Steenbeekdries for the final time, the gap to the breakaway began to dwindle to only 10 seconds. As the leading tandem were brought back in, Jasper Stuyven (Belgium) attacked the peloton with only 13 kilometers left in the race. His move was short lived as the race and was followed by Simon Yates (Great Britain) attacking on the Taaienberg. Yates was joined by an elite group of ten riders including Stuyven, De Bie, Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands) and Frederik Ludvigsson (Sweden). This gap was neutralized but Yates again tried to attack on the Eikenberg but was brought back into the fold of a ~30 rider strong peloton.

Coming back into Oudenaarde, there were multiple attacks in the final flat kilometers. Dieter Bouvry (Belgium) attempted to go with 2 kilometers to go but as he was brought back, a dangerous counter was launched. Jasper Stuyven, Ignazio Moser (Italy) and Sean Hambrook (New Zealand) attacked in just before the final kilometer and gained a gap over the peloton and taking it into the final straightaway. With the peloton in full-sprint, the last-minute break attempt was brought back within the final 250 meters. In the end, Rick Zabel (Germany) had a clean line was able to taken the sprint ahead of a lunging Dylan Groenewegen (Netherlands), who had the misfortune of being stuck behind a cramping rider.
  1. Rick Zabel (Germany)
  2. Dylan Groenewegen (Netherlands)
  3. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Denmark)
  4. Sean De Bie (Belgium)
  5. Kristian Haugaard Jensen (Denmark)
  6. Nick van der Lijke (Netherlands
  7. Toms Skujins (Latvia)
  8. Luka Pibernik (Slovenia)
  9. Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (France)
  10. Alberto Bettiol (Italy)

Some takeaways...
  • This is the biggest win of Zabel's young career and while this race played out different than other U23 Ronde's in the past, it is a big signal that he is destined for greatness.
  • Denmark did well to get two in the top five and did about as well as they could have hoped for, realistically
  • Groenewegen had some bad luck in the final sprint but his 2nd place here, along with other strong result the last two years, signal big things to come. His Netherlands squad showed very well today after multiple attacks and with no classics specific riders, 2nd place is an accomplishment.
  • The USA probably had the worst luck of the day after Mannion experienced multiple flat tires and other riders had mechanical problems which made them a near non-factor in the finale.
  • New Zealand and Kazakhstan finished strong with three and four rider respectively finishing in the front group. 

1 comment:

  1. What happened to the kiwi boys Chris? 3 in the front bunch inc Frame and still couldn't manage a top ten, they'll be a little disappointed in that.