Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) attacked from distance and made it through a string of climbs and dirt roads to win Paris-Tours, Sunday.
The Belgian rode free as chase groups splintered and re-formed, more focussed on attacking each other than bringing back the leader.
The win puts a sheen on a difficult year for Wallays, as he discussed after the race.
“I had a difficult season, I was always focussed on my goals, but something always happened. I crashed at the begging of the year and lost three teeth. I could start the Belgian championships and the condition was good, and I wanted to go to the Tour, but I wasn’t in the selection. Then I looked forward to the Vuelta and I got sick.”
After a year of lost opportunities, Paris-Tours represented a final chance, and one Wallays had a history with. The Belgian has also won the senior edition of the race in 2014 before the introduction of nine dirt roads in the second half of the course. He also won the U23 race in 2010.
“[After the bad start to the year], it was my goal here, Paris-Tours, so it was good to end the season like this.”
The 210km race blew to bits half way, when the course changed direction and the headwind that had been slowing things up turned to crosswind. A crash in the bunch and upping in the pace saw a group of over 50 go clear at the front, and they soon caught the seven-man breakaway.
Further winds split the lead group shortly after the break had been caught, leaving 30 at the front of the race, with chase groups scattered across the road behind them. The lead echelon worked well and the chasers were soon over one minute back.
As the winds eased, Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) and Boy van Poppel (Roompot-Charles) attacked and grew a gap. The pair worked well together until Andersen attacked his companion over one of the series of climbs at the back half of the route with 55km to go.
Behind, the lead group had hit a dirt sector, and Wallays made his move. A crash on the gravel caused a moment of pause in the bunch, and the Belgian went clear alone.
Just as Wallays bridged to Andersen with 45km to go, the Danish Sunweb rider punctured on a dirt road.
“I wanted to get a gap with a little group, but suddenly I was alone,” said Wallays. “I was with Andersen, but he had a flat, so I needed to do it alone.”
As Wallays began his long time trial to the line, the chase group of around 15 riders failed to work together, with small groups going off the front for brief skirmishes before being brought back. Despite Groupama-FDJ having four in the front, they seemed more intent on protecting their sprinter Arnaud Demare than catching Wallays.
Demare, Naesen, and Lars Bak (Dimension Data) were all aggressive in the final 15km as they looked to force the pace in the chase group.
It wasn’t until 5km to go, with Wallays 55 seconds up the road, that Terpstra and Naesen coalesced and went off as a pair.
Wallays had looked strong through his lone attack, and got lucky not puncturing over any of the dirt roads that caused problems for so many others. He was able to enjoy the final 100 meters of the race as he took his first win of the season.
“I had a good feeling from the beginning today, and in the last week,” said the winner. “I was focussed on this race and I gave it my all, and with a happy end.”
Naesen and Terpstra came to the line together, content with the podium slots rather than fighting for second place. Terpstra took second in the final acceleration to the line.
39-year-old Bak finished his career with seventh place, having been racing in the top tier of the sport since 2005.
- Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal): 5:34:20
- Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie): +0:00:29
- Oliver Naesen(AG2R-La Mondiale): +0:00:30
- Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ): +0:00:36
- Amaury Capiot (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise): +0:00:49
- Aime De Gendt (Wanty-Gobert): S.T.