Florian Sénéchal takes first race of post-COVID Belgian season

Frenchman wins GP Vermarc Sport, which was held after one minute's silence for Niels De Vriendt.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step fast man Florian Sénéchal snatched a solo victory at the GP Vermarc Sport kermesse Sunday.

The Frenchman attacked from a small lead group to beat Oscar Riesebeek (Alpecin-Fenix) and Victor Campenaerts, who was racing independently rather than for his NTT Pro Cycling team. The 164-kilometer circuit race was the first of the restarted pro season in Belgium.

A small group emerged from the lead bunch with about 15km to go that included Sénéchal, Riesebeek, Campenaerts, Stijn Steels (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), who held a 40-second advantage over the peloton. Rather than wait for a sprint, 26-year-old Sénéchal surprised his breakaway companions with an acceleration over a small rise with just 6km to go, soloing to the line from there.

“This win gives me a lot of satisfaction,” Sénéchal said after the race. “Even if it’s only a kermesse, it still means a lot to us to get the victory after showing our jersey and sponsors in the best way possible. They are all affected by the coronavirus, so it was important for everybody here at the “Wolfpack” to show them our support with this win … Now it’s time for our Val di Fassa training camp, and from there to the first official races of the second part of the season.”

The event, held in Flemish town Rotselaar, required a range of health and safety measures for both spectators and racers. The large crowd was required to use face masks.

“I think it was very well organized. A big thumbs up,” said Campenaerts after the race. “Let’s hope this is a good example for the upcoming races and that we can continue until the end of the season … I would like a mouth mask to be made mandatory. It may not be the very best protection, but it is a very little effort.”

The race was held in the wake of the death of young Belgian Niels De Vriendt who passed away from heart failure while at Wortegem-Petegem Saturday. A one-minute silence was held immediately before the peloton rolled out as a mark of respect for the 20-year-old.