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Voeckler wins Brabantse Pijl; Howes earns sixth from chase group

Frenchman wins Ardennes prelude with bold solo attack

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Thomas Voeckler won De Brabantse Pijl Wednesday with a long-range solo attack. Voeckler (Europcar) held off a chase from a seven-rider group that included Oscar Freire (Katusha), who finished second, ahead of Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator).

“I thought some riders would come with me,” said Voeckler. “When I attacked, I wasn’t thinking about the victory at that point. I didn’t expect to arrive alone. When I was holding the gap of more than 1 minute, I started to believe it was possible.

De Brabantse Pijl is the prelude to the Ardennes classics, which open Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race in Maastricht, Netherlands. At 196km, the midweek semi-classic is the first test for the hilly classics riders. King of the Ardennes in 2011, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), fired a number of attacks partway through the race, but ultimately did not factor in the finale.

Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) were among the antagonists over the last 50 kilometers, which included three trips over the Hagaard, Herstraat, Ijskelderlaan and Schavei bergs.

Voeckler took advantage of a lull in the action with 30 kilometer remaining and attacked up the right side of the peloton. Moments later, Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) jumped out in pursuit, drawing out what would become the first chase group on the road. The group quickly scooped up Daniel Schorn (NetApp). Twenty-two seconds up the road, Voeckler gritted his teeth in his solo bid.

The Vanendert group included Friere, Serry, Howes, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). With most of the major squads represented (Liquigas the exception, but having lost Sagan from contention following a late crash) the seven riders worked together to build a 30-second advantage, but struggled to pull in Voeckler. The Frenchman, who wore the maillot jaune at the Tour de France for more than a week in 2011, pushed ahead to a :42 lead with 22 kilometers — and still seven climbs — to go.

“I knew the chase was coming behind and I had to go 100 percent to hold them off,” said Voeckler.

The chase would never see Voeckler, who crossed the line, face grimacing, alone. Freire opened the group sprint and came through second, with Serry on his wheel. Howes scored the top American result, in sixth.

“The winner of today was the strongest,” said Freire. “Voeckler raced well. He attacked at a difficult moment. He’s the best rider in the race.”