4/11/2013 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!

Sagan wins De Brabantse Pijl

De Brabantse Pijl - La Flèche Brabançonne 2013

Cannondale rider beats Gilbert in sprint

Returning to racing after his podium result at the Tour of Flanders, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has won De Brabantse Pijl-La Flèche Brabançonne in a two-man sprint against world champion and 2011 Brabantse Pijl winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC). Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team), part of the three-man group which emerged from an 11-rider break on the day's final climb in the closing kilometre, had nothing left to sprint with and crossed the line for third place at four seconds.

The race-winning 11-man break came together midway through the final 23.4km finishing circuit as a six-man lead group containing Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Stijn Devolder (RadioShack Leopard), Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM), Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar) and Paul Voss (Team NetApp-Endura) was joined by a five-rider chase group comprised of Sagan, Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Simon Geschke (Team Argos-Shimano).

The finishing circuit's fifth and final climb, the Schavei, inside the last kilometre, would be the launch pad from which Sagan, Gilbert and Leukemans would emerge at the fore to contest the sprint. Van Avermaet and Maes had attacked the lead group prior to the ascent and held a slim advantage as the climb started, but Sagan led the chase and had the strength to launch an attack of his own as he caught and passed both Maes and then Van Avermaet.

Gilbert and Leukemans were able to mark Sagan's surge, but the Slovakian champion had enough left in the tank to dispatch of his rivals in the kick to the finish line in Overijse.

"The final was the most difficult part of the race" said Sagan. "I was in a minority situation compared to Omega Pharma-QuickStep and BMC, and all the riders left to me the responsibility to stop the attacks. I found a good chance on the last climb. I let it rip to close the gap on Van Avermaet and to leave behind as many riders as possible. It was a big effort.

"In the final straight we were against the wind and Gilbert was just behind me. I thought to do a short sprint but his attack anticipated my plan. At that point I had only to follow him and try to pass: I'm really happy to have done it."

Gilbert kept close tabs on Sagan in the finale and with the benefit of a teammate in Van Avermaet he had assistance in putting Sagan under duress, but Sagan proved too strong, denying Gilbert his first win of the 2013 season.

"I was confident for the sprint because I was already on his wheel the last five kilometres and I was very focused," Gilbert said. "It was so close.

"It is always better to win, but we did a great race and we played our cards in the final. It also gives a lot of confidence to the team and to myself as well. But it's always better to win, for sure."

An early break and animated finishing circuits

Dehaes and Maes were also part of the day's early break, formed at just 46km in. They were away with Ben Hermans (RadioShack Leopard), Youcef Reguigui (MTN-Qhubeka), Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis) and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare). The six-man group reached a maximum advantage in excess of four minutes, but stabilised at approximately 3:30.

The break made it onto the 23.4km finishing circuit, to be negotiated three times, and on the first lap of the circuit Reguigui was the first casualty of the break, dropped and absorbed by the peloton which trailed by just one minute.

With 50km to go Stijn Devolder (RadioShack Leopard) jumped away from the peloton and after a spirited 7km pursuit he made contact with the leaders. While Devolder was chasing solo, three more riders attacked the peloton, Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM), Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar) and Paul Voss (Team NetApp-Endura), and this trio, too, managed to cross the gap to the break.

On the penultimate finishing circuit, with 41km remaining, 2011 De Brabantse Pijl champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) had a rear flat and a slow change, first attempted by a teammate and then completed by a team mechanic. Gilbert didn't have any teammates to assist in his chase back, but the world champion surfed through the caravan and eventually regained contact, just as pre-race favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) experienced his own mechanical difficulties and had to stop for a bike change.

Near the end of the penultimate finishing circuit the break was reduced to just six riders - Maes, Dehaes, Leukemans, Devolder, Voss and Malacarne - as Devolder pushed the pace.

Entering the final 23.4km circuit the six leaders led the peloton by 41 seconds and soon afterwards Team Argos-Shimano came to the front of the field in force with five riders to try to cut into the break's advantage. Despite the show of force, the six leaders continued to hold the peloton at approximately 35-40 seconds.

The race's decisive action kicked off on the final ascent of the Hertstraat, the second of five hellingen on the finishing circuit, as Greg Van Avermaet attacked the peloton with teammate Philippe Gilbert in tow. Sensing danger, Peter Sagan immediately marked the escape and the trio were soon joined by Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Simon Geschke (Team Argos-Shimano) to form a five-rider chase group).

With 12km remaining, the five chasers made contact with the six leaders to form an 11-rider front group.

Defending champion Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) attacked and splintered the peloton in an attempt to bridge to the leaders, but with 9km remaining his chase group was absorbed by a re-grouped peloton and trailed the 11 leaders by 25 seconds. The deficit to the 11 leaders would steadily inch up in the closing kilometres and it became clear that the 2013 De Brabantse Pijl champion would come from that group.

Two kilometres from the finish Van Avermaet and Maes jumped away from the lead group and held a slim advantage onto the circuit's final climb, the Schavei, with Sagan leading the chase.

Van Avermaet dropped Maes on the climb, but Sagan continued his charge, passing first Maes and then Van Avermaet in the push to the finish line. Gilbert and Leukemans were the only riders to respond and soon after making contact Gilbert led out the sprint. Leukemans had nothing left and didn't respond, while Sagan came around Gilbert in the closing metres to add De Brabantse Pijl to his ever-increasing palmares.

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