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Christophe Laporte came within spitting distance of winning his first race with Jumbo-Visma.
The French rider was one of three riders that broke away from a larger group of attackers with less than 20 kilometers to go and almost held off the peloton in what was a dramatic finale to Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
An accomplished sprinter, Laporte looked to be the most likely candidate to take the win should the move succeed. However, the peloton had just enough space — helped slightly by the break eyeing each other up ahead of the finishing sprint — to bring them back and claim the win.
Laporte launched a long sprint in the hope he could make it, but he soon sat up as Fabio Jakobsen and Caleb Ewan darted past him with mere meters to go. He still held on for eighth place.
“We thought that we could do it, but we knew that the peloton was not so far behind us. It was 10 or 12 seconds sometimes. We tried not to think about that we just tried to give our best and to try to go for the win,” Laporte told VeloNews after stepping off the podium to collect his €2,500 prize money for being the first across the line to start the local laps around Kuurne.
“We just pushed the maximum and tried to make it to the finish. It was just the last kilometer that we lost some speed because of the guys thinking about the win. It was close but it’s like that.”
Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne was Laporte’s first race with the Jumbo-Visma squad after joining the team over the winter. He was brought in as part of a drive to bolster the team’s classics roster, and the result is by far his best result at the one-day race.
His brush with victory capped off what was a very strong “opening weekend” for Jumbo-Visma, after Wout van Aert stormed to victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, and showed that the Frenchman is settling in nicely with the squad.
“I’m very happy to be with this team. We won yesterday with Wout, and we have seen a very good Jumbo-Visma these last two days,” he said. “We have been getting on very well together, we did some good work at altitude. I think that we are strong, and we can play a lot of different strategies, which is good for the team.”
Riding aggressively and having fun
Jumbo-Visma was one of the most aggressive teams in Kuurne, with multiple riders pushing up the pace on the front or going on the attack. As well as Laporte, another newcomer into the team, Tiesj Benoot was once again on the attack.
The Belgian rider also rode an aggressive Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, attacking several times to whittle down the group ahead of van Aert’s race-winning move. Though he was out of position when the group that Laporte was in went up the road, he was there to try and frustrate the peloton’s chase in the final kilometers.
“In the last lap we believed in it because you saw that it was hard for Quick-Step and other teams to close it down. Then, we sat behind, and we tried to stop them a bit so I think that we did a good job,” Benoot told VeloNews.
“At the start of the day, we wanted to race and then see on the local lap if we still had David Dekker there for the sprint or Mike [Teunissen] or Christophe. We raced and we were maybe three guys in a group of about 18 and then the attacks started a bit and I felt really good actually and then I was caught a bit behind. With two guys in front, Christophe and Nathan [Van Hooydonck]. Then, Christophe managed to stay in front with three guys, but they got caught at the finish line. It is a pity, otherwise, it would have been two for two.”
Like Laporte, the “opening weekend” has been Benoot’s first appearance in Jumbo-Visma colors following a slightly disappointing spell with Team DSM. The inclusion of Benoot and Laporte has made the team’s classics squad more than simply the van Aert show.
“It’s a really nice atmosphere at the team and I feel much better, that’s true,” he said. “Also, without Wout I think that we showed today that we were there. At this moment, we are one of the strongest but we will see in the future.”
After getting stuck into one-day racing, Laporte is headed back to his native France for his first stage race of the year, Paris-Nice. He will have a key support role at the one-week race, but it will also serve as further preparation for the major classics to come later in the spring.
“I will now go to Paris-Nice to help Primož Roglič, and Wout will be there also. The team has a big goal for the win, the GC and maybe some stages,” Laporte said. “After that, I will go to the classics. We have a lot of goals over the next few weeks, and we want to have the best result in all of the races. For me, I want to have fun with the team.”