Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won stage 5 of the Eneco Tour, perfectly timing his final move on the steep Muur van Geraardsbergen.
Throughout the race, BMC played its cards expertly, probing the field with attacks and forcing Belkin to work hard to defend Lars Boom’s GC lead.
At the base of the stage’s last of three trips up the Muur, Van Avermaet was positioned at the front, and jumped clear on the steep pitch, quickly catching a late escape by Laurens De Vreese (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Pavel Brutt (Katusha).
The Belgian didn’t even look back as he punched through the steep final ramp, finishing with barely enough energy to put an arm in the air to celebrate victory.
“I didn’t want to look behind me because I thought someone would come,” Van Avermaet said. “It was difficult to choose the correct gear, and I didn’t know if I was going fast enough. So I kept sprinting until the finish.”
With a strong final push to take second place on the day, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) wrested the GC lead from Boom.
“Before the stage it was not my goal to become leader today but I wanted to go for the victory as I felt really good,” said Dumoulin. “I was the fastest over the final 500m in the bunch but I was slightly out of position at the bottom of the climb and Greg was too far ahead already.
“I feel in superb condition — the Tour did me good and I hope to hold onto the overall lead now after today. Even though I did not plan on taking the lead it is not bad to be leading heading into the last two stages. There are people we have to watch tomorrow and it will be a tough race, but we will make a good plan and our team is strong.
“We showed today that we were the only team that could control in the final, and we have a great team for tomorrow too.”
The early breakaway
Early in the race, a four-man breakaway formed with Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Pablo Lastras (Movistar).
With 112 kilometers to go, the four leaders had nearly a four-minute lead over the field. That lead would eventually go north of five minutes before the peloton stabilized the advantage.
Rain started to fall at about 31km to go, and around that time Rovy was dropped from the breakaway.
BMC started probing the peloton with about 28km to go, sending Silvan Dillier off the front to try bridging to the leaders.
Trentin attacked the break on the Geraardsbergen, paring the group down to two, as only Lastras could follow.
Gilbert went to the front of the peloton at the base of the Muur, stringing out the field. Boom then countered on the steep pitch.
At the crest of the Muur, Four riders broke off the front of the field: Lars Boom (Belkin), Philip Gilbert (BMC), Manuel Quinziato (BMC), and Jens Keukeleire (Orica GreenEdge).
Boom and Keukeleire had a slight gap after the climb, but the race leader elected to wait for a moment while the BMC duo closed the gap on the flat road after the Muur.
With 19.5km to go, the four-man chase group was slowly brought back to the peloton as riders bridged across to the chasers, who were not riding very cooperatively.
The efforts over the Muur brought the lead duo’s gap down to 1:08, and with 16 kilometers remaining, the break’s advantage was under one minute.
Dillier attacked again, with 15 kilometers remaining as the field hesitated.
With 11km to go, Lastras attacked Trentin. The Spaniard held a slim advantage over his breakaway companion for about a kilometer, but Trentin eventually brought him back. That effort stretched their lead to nearly one minute over Dillier.
Sky put two riders on the front of the peloton to ride tempo with eight kilometers to go. Dillier’s gap was 18 seconds, and the lead duo was one minute ahead of the field.
A hilly finish
Dillier’s solo effort ended at the base of the penultimate climb. At that point, the leaders’ gap was down to 36 seconds.
A counter-move soon came from BMC, with Van Avermaet, pushing the pace up the grade. That effort broke a group of seven off the front of the peloton.
But as the hill’s pitch eased, most of the peloton regained contact with the seven chasers. The two leaders dangled off the front with a slim gap.
Trentin and Lastras’ escape soon ended, and then De Vreese took the initiative with 3.3km to go, attacking the peloton.
Brutt saw the opportunity and jumped clear of the field, soloing across the gap to join the Belgian instigator.
The two held a small advantage at base of Muur with one kilometer to go, but the peloton was bearing down on them.
As De Vreese faded with about 800 meters to go, Van Avermaet leapt out of the peloton, quickly overtaking the Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider. He then did the same to Brutt, just before the final left-hand bend at the crest of the climb, stamping the pedals and rolling through the finish with one arm in the air.
“It is a great feeling for me to finally get a win this year,” Van Avermaet said. “It is a very nice win for me and for the team, and today’s course was perfect. I have known it from when I was young, which is a big advantage.”
Behind, Dumoulin placed second, which was enough for him to reclaim the GC lead. Brutt kept it together, rounding out the podium in third.
With Dumoulin now in the white leader’s jersey, Boom sits second overall, two seconds behind, and Manuel Quinziato is third, 11 seconds in arrears.
Saturday’s 173.9km stage runs from Heerlen in the Netherlands to La Redoute in Belgium, sending the peloton over the Cote de La Redoute three times.