Belgian powerhouse Etixx — Quick-Step might have been skunked this weekend on home roads, but Czech sensation Petr Vakoc delivered two stunning wins in France to defend team colors.
The 23-year-old swept a pair of one-day races in France, kicking to victory in a 12-man sprint in Saturday’s Classic Sud Ardèche, and then nipping experienced Belgian Jan Bakelants (Ag2r-La Mondiale) to win the Drôme Classic on Sunday.
Both courses featured hilly, challenging terrain, and both races were full of Ardennes-bound riders honing their form ahead of the spring classics. The victories serve as confirmation for the explosive, third-year pro from the Czech Republic.
“We expect a big year from Petr,” said Etixx manager Patrick Lefevere earlier this season. “He is one of our top young riders, and he has already shown his class. We see a lot of potential for him.”
Saturday’s win came out of a group that also included Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Adam Yates (Orica – GreenEdge), and Julian Arredondo (Trek – Segafredo). Sunday’s win came in an even harder finale, with a steep climb in the final 1.5km. Vakoc patiently marked Bakelants wheel, and then made easy work of him at the finish line, six seconds clear of a chasing group of 10.
“It’s a special moment because this is the first time I have won as a pro in a sprint, something that was regular for me as a U-23 rider,” Vakoc said Saturday. “It felt great to get the win after being close the last couple of days.”
A product of the Etixx development team, Vakoc is entering his third year with the World Tour squad. In his rookie season in 2014, he won a stage at the Tour of Poland, and was second in both the time trial and road race against his more famous compatriot and teammate, Zdenek Stybar, at the Czech national championships.
Last year, he completed his first grand tour at the Giro d’Italia, won a stage and the overall at the Czech Tour (2.1), and a stage at the Tour of Britain. He also won the Czech national title for the first time.
He’s been on a tear so far in 2016, with fifth at the classics-style Stirling stage at the Santos Tour Down Under to debut his season. Fifth at Haut Var, he was second overall at the new La Provence stage race, just seven seconds behind winner Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie).
Up next are Strade Bianche and a full spring classics calendar, with a special focus on Ardennes week.
Even without victory this weekend in the Belgian semi-classics, Etixx—Quick-Step ends February with 12 victories from seven riders.