Careful teamwork cued up Etixx-Quick-Step’s Gianni Meersman for a crack at the sprint in the Handzame classic on Friday, and the Belgian delivered his third win of the season in Handzame, Belgium.
“It was a pretty fast race,” Meersman said in a team statement. “There were four riders in the breakaway, but it was very cold today, and they didn’t get too much of an advantage. Once we reached the local laps, Etixx-Quick-Step really took the initiative to close the gap.”
Etixx-Quick-Step caught the remnants of the breakaway with 10 kilometers remaining in the 198.6km race. From that point on, it was a textbook lead-out to deliver the team’s 29-year-old sprinter to the line.
Antoine Demoitie (Wallonie-Bruxelles) was second, and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) finished third.
“I saw Kenny [Dehaes] hit the ground [early in the race],” Benoot said of his teammate, who won the race last year. “I stopped to see how he was doing; it was soon obvious that he couldn’t continue the race. We changed our tactics.
“I had to help Boris Vallée take a good position for the sprint. In the last three kilometers, Sean [De Bie] and I rode behind the guys of Etixx–Quick-Step, with Boris Vallée just behind us. With one kilometer to go, I saw Boris lost my wheel. It was too late to search for him, so I took my own chance. If I hadn’t done the efforts at the end, I might have finished higher.”
“The guys really pulled hard to make [a] perfect sprint for me possible. I’m very grateful for the work the team did for me and that I could finish it. It also feels super-special to win as a Belgian rider in what is basically a home race for me.”