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Inside the Belgian ‘conspiracy’ at Paris-Nice

Bunch of Belgian brawlers launch pre-planned attack to spice up snoozy day in Paris-Nice.

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What does any self-respecting Flandrien day do during a snoozy day in the saddle? Why, get some buddies together and throw a firework into proceedings, that’s what.

And that’s exactly what a group of 11 heavy-hitting Belgians did during a dragging pan-flat stage at Paris-Nice on Thursday.

“We had a history-free stage and so the idea grew to make something fun out of it,” chief conspirator Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-Citroën) told Sporza after the stage.

Also read: Oliver Naesen: ‘I live and train for the cobbled classics’

With the race all together at 70-kilometers to go in anticipation of a bunch sprint in Bollène, Naesen and 10 of his compatriots punched off the front of the bunch and windmilled their way clear of the unsuspecting peloton.

It was no coincidence that a group of friends, near-neighbors and training partners all made it into the escape – Naesen had hatched the plot well ahead of time.

“It was a clean logistical operation to get everyone together,” he explained. “You have to choose the riders from the right teams, so that the sprinter teams would not react. Everyone I approached jumped in. The briefing was very good. They knew perfectly from which kilometer it was going to happen. Who decided that? I should give that honor to myself. But it was beautiful.”

The group made for a parade of the most grizzled of classics contenders, with Lotto-Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert and Thomas De Gendt, Deceuninck-Quick-Step pair Yves Lampaert and Tim Declerq, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka Assos) among those in the move.

Some riders missed the party however.

“The climber types among the Belgians, such as [Tiesj] Benoot, [Dylan] Teuns and [Laurens] De Plus were disappointed not to be involved when we were caught again,” Naesen said. “We couldn’t take them all, so I chose to leave the men under 70kg at home for this match.”

Wout van Aert was busy defending his GC lead in a frantic finale at Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday, but still had the energy to chime into the post-race social media banter.

“Not invited?” he jibed at Benoot, who had been deemed too lightweight to be selected for the scheme.

The escape didn’t last long as the headwind picked up and the sprint teams kept threats in check, and soon enough the 11 were back in the peloton. Stage winner Sam Bennett had a front-row seat as two of his teammates and their nine co-conspirators dangled just seconds ahead of the watching bunch.

Also read: Sprinters’ delight at stage 5 of Paris-Nice

“I saw that move with the Belgians happen,” he said. “I laughed about it. I liked it, It’s entertaining.”

Although the plot fizzled out fast, it scooped Naesen the combativity prize and will give something for a bunch of bored Belgians to laugh about through the classics season to come.

“We cannot admit it out loud, because these plans are forbidden in the sport, but it was a nice get-together among mates,” Naesen said afterward.