Oscar Gatto won the Dwars door Vlaanderen (Across Flanders) semi-classic on Wednesday in Waregem, Belgium. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) appeared set for victory after a late, solo attack, but Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) timed his sprint from the chase group perfectly to come around the Frenchman in the final 10 meters.
Borut Bozic (Astana) and Mathew Hayman (Sky) slipped past Voeckler at the line for second and third, respectively.
“This is a great emotion, winning in Belgium, where the best races are ridden,” said Gatto. “As a small team, we do not have many chances, so I had a lot of motivation at the start to show that we are perhaps deserving of more opportunities. To be the first Italian winner is something extra special and feels great.”
The cold European winter continues at Dwars door Vlaanderen
The 200-kilometer opener of the 2.5-week cobbled classics season rolled out of Roeselare, Belgium, under cold, overcast skies.
“Yeah, it was really, really hard and we knew that from the start,” said Hayman. “Everybody in the bus said, ‘you have to race, you have to race. In weather conditions like this, you can’t wait.'”
Fourteen riders took that message to heart, breaking the peloton’s leash 21km into the stage: Selvaggi, Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Assan Bazayev (Astana), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp), Enrique Sanz (Movistar), Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Leopard), Marko Kump (Saxo-Tinkoff), Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano), Maarten Neyens (Lotto-Belisol), Mattia Pozzo (Vini Fantini), Nico Sijmens (Cofidis), Ralf Matzka (NetApp-Endura), Matt Brammeier (Champion System), and Jonathan Breyne (Crelan-Euphony).
A number of regroupings followed over the race’s first four hellingen — the climbs of the Nieuwe Kwaremont, Kattenberg, Leberg, and Berendries — and with 55km to go, Hayman was at the head of affairs with Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma) and Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling).
Hayman laid down a acceleration on the Konkteberg, 41km from the finish, opening the late action and taking a long, solo flyer.
He carried a 25-second advantage onto the Oude Kwaremont climb with 25km to go. Behind the Aussie, a chase group followed, containing Gatto, Selvaggi, Bozic and Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), Voeckler and Björn Thurau (Europcar), Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM), Ian Stannard (Sky), Stijn Vandenbergh and Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jens Keukeliere (Orica-GreenEdge), Stijn Devolder (RadioShack-Leopard), Maxim Vantomme (Crelan-Euphony), Bertjan LIndeman (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Back in the chase, Vantomme suffered a mishap at the base of the iconic cobbled climb and was forced to chase back onto the group. Devolder and Lindeman dropped from the group as well and would not see the front of the race again.
At the top of the climb, Vandenbergh went to the front and drove the pace, splitting the leaders. Iglinskiy led the chase and the pressure unfurled the group. Vandenbergh’s acceleration was too much for his companions and he set off in lone pursuit of Hayman.
With 34km to go, the Aussie looked over his right shoulder to see the Belgian coming up the road. With a glance, Vandenbergh went to the front, dropped his forearms onto his handlebars, and turned the pedals.
Behind the leaders, Stannard appeared to be playing defense in the chase, disrupting the group’s rhythm from second wheel. But when he found himself at the front of the group, the British champion lifted the pace, apparently unhappy with Hayman’s chances in a sprint with Vandenbergh.
Regrouping over the Paterberg for the finale
Hayman finally pulled through on the Paterberg, but the chasers had the two escapees in their sights. Gatto led the chase group up the concrete gutter on the left side of the climb, but his pace was enough to free him from the group. He quickly bridged to Hayman and Vandenbergh, but the new trio wasn’t built for a run at the finish.
Vandenbergh wasn’t waiting around for Stannard, and attacked his two companions on a paved false flat with 31km to go. The move wasn’t enough, however, and the three riders sat up to wait for their pursuers. With 29km to go, 10 riders were together at the front of the race: Gatto, Keukeleiere, Voeckler, and Selvaggi, along with the Sky tandem of Hayman and Stannard, Omega Pharma’s Vandenbergh and Maes, and Astana’s Iglinskiy and Bozic.
Stannard pressed the issue at the front. Behind them, a chase group including defending champion Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil), and Devolder chased at 35 seconds.
Gatto pulled the leaders onto the 1.4km paved climb of the 6.5-percent Vossenhol. Voeckler put in a brief check-attack, but fell back into the group, with two teammates coming up from behind. Gustav Erik Larson (IAM Cycling) was attacking the chasers, pulling two Europcar riders with him. When the leaders reached the Holstraat ramp and handful of kilometers later, their advantage was still 29 seconds. Voeckler was waiting no longer.
The Frenchman attacked from the middle of the group, stringing it out and dislodging Hayman and Keukeleiere for a moment. The two latched back on, however, and Voeckler continued pulling the group, his face wrought with its typical agony. The attack pushed the gap back out to almost 40 seconds and Vandenbergh went to the front through a tricky section of farm road. With 13km to go, the 10 leaders were together, rolling turns and concentrating on keeping the chasers at bay.
The Nokereberg was the only climb separating the riders from the finish in Waregem, but the leaders rode off the top of the ramp all together.
Moments later, Stannard quietly drifted to the left side of the road on a long, flat section of tarmac, put his head down, and attacked. Never leaving the saddle, the British champion drove a wedge in the group, dropping Maes. But it was Voeckler’s counter of the move that saw more success. The Frenchman took four seconds and the chasers sat, looking at each other. Voeckler saw the hesitation and pushed the accelerator, pushing out to 10 seconds. He carried 13 seconds under the 5km to go kite.
Vandenbergh took up the chase, joined by Iglinskiy, but Voeckler kept pushing his advantage out. He had 15 seconds with 3km remaining.
Vandenbergh was again at the front of the chase with 2km to go and was reeling Voeckler in. The Frenchman held nine seconds at 1km to go. Stannard jumped into a left-hand corner, but couldn’t shake the group. Gatto sat in the wheel as the Brit pursued Voeckler into the finish straight.
Voeckler appeared set for victory when Gatto burst from the group and edged by him in the final 10 meters.
“I did not think Voeckler was going to the finish, but in the end he was still very close,” said Gatto.
Bozic threw his bike for second.
“Today was a good result for me and the team,” said Bozic. “I saw on the Paterberg how strong Gatto was when he was the only one who could chase down the breakaway. So at the sprint I just tried to follow his wheel, because he really deserved the victory.”
Hayman was boxed in and had to settle for third. Selvaggi came through fourth, pushing Voeckler to fifth.
“I was a bit trapped, but when you see an opportunity you should go,” said Hayman. “Unfortunately there were faster men.”
Voeckler was disappointed after his late bid fell short.
“This is very bad,” said Voeckler. “Of course I was tired, but I thought that I could succeed until I looked back and saw Ian Stannard work, though I do not know for whom. I got cramps in the end and that was fatal to me.”