Jens Keukeleire Sprints to Seventh at Dwars door Vlaanderen

Thu 21 Mar 2013

Jens Keukeleire rounded out the top ten at Dwars door Vlaanderen last year. The young Belgian hoped to go better than tenth place this year. Keukeleire maintained contact with an ever-dwindling lead group, using his local knowledge to stay well-positioned at every key moment in the race. When an elite selection of ten riders made it over the penultimate climb together, Keukeleire was there. The group went on to contest the race win.

“I have a double feeling about today,” admitted Keukeleire. “I wanted to go better than last year. Last year, I was part of a small group that made it to the final. I wanted to do something similar this year but finish a bit stronger and with a better result. I was there in the final again today, and I know I did a good race – but if you can sprint for victory, seventh doesn’t feel good enough for me.”

Keukeleire was full of praise for the young team that supported his second consecutive top ten finish. ORICA-GreenEDGE fielded a mix of young, inexperienced riders with cobbled classic veterans.

“The team did quite a good job today,” he noted. “We are here with a really young team, and for more than half, it was their first or second race in this region. The team stayed together throughout the race. Everybody was given a job, and we all did our jobs well. I’m really proud of the way we rode, especially for those racing here for the first time. Quite far into the race, we still had a lot of the team on the front. It’s really promising for the rest of these races to come.”

Leigh Howard was one such rider who lined up for his first Belgium classic. He happily reported the day went better than he expected after he came across the line in the main bunch with Mitch Docker and Tomas Vaitkus at his side.

“It went off better than I thought I would,” Howard said. “I had good legs, and I didn’t have too much trouble staying in a good position all day. I was a bit unlucky to get caught behind another rider who dropped his chain on the Oude Kwaremont. I had to unclip and get going again from a complete stop. After that, I was in the second group. We didn’t want to chase too much because we had Jens up front, but Mitch and Tomas looked after me in the event that it would come back to a sprint.”

The Belgian classic began in the rain with attacks from kilometre zero. A large escape group went away only to be brought back before the first climb. Another large group slipped clear ahead of the Nieuwe Kwaremont. The 15 riders established a 45” lead.

The lead group fractured over the first cluster of climbs and cobbles with only eight riders ahead as they hit the Valkenburg. By the time the race reached the second clusters of climbs, a chase group of seven had formed behind the race leaders. Mat Hayman (Sky) and Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) slipped away from the lead group before the chase group made contact.

The two front groups merged ahead of the Knoteberg shortly before the peloton latched onto the group. A reshuffle at the front left Hayman alone in the lead with a fairly large peloton in his wake just ahead of the 40 kilometre mark.

“I live not so far from these hills and cobbles,” said Keukeleire. “It’s a two hour ride by my bike. If I do a big training day, I can come here to ride these climbs. Also, when you grow up here, you grow up racing on these roads. For sure, I know every road in the race well. I have already done them all about 100 times.”

“You can be the best rider in the peloton, but if you don’t know your way around, you’re unlikely to have a good race,” he added. “I always like to know the parcours well. It’s really important to me, and here I already know the parcours without studying the race.”

With his local knowledge, Keukeleire was unbothered by the constant reshuffle at the front. He felt comfortable in his decision to bide his time until the final hour of racing.

“I know the most crucial parts of the race come in the last 40 kilometres,” explained Keukeleire. “The first 100 kilometres is relatively flat. The second half includes all of the hills and cobbles. This final usually begins before the final section of hills. There are three at the end and some cobbles, too. I knew I needed to be on the front over the first of the three hills because something could happen there – and it did. A group of 15 riders formed.”

Over the Halstraat, the penultimate hill, five riders lost contact leaving a group of ten in the race lead. Hayman had been caught and joined by Keukeleire, Borut Bozic (Astana), Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM), Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Stijn Vandenbergh and Nicolas Maes (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), Ian Stannard (Sky Procycling), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia).

“After that hill, we started working together pretty well to stay in the front to the finish,” said Keukeleire. “There was a strong chase group behind us, and we didn’t want the two groups to come together.”

Inside the final ten kilometres, the leaders began their attacks. Keukeleire put in the first dig on the Nokereberg. Stannard countered Keukeleire’s attempt. The Brit was pulled back by Vandenberg. Voeckler launched from fifth wheel and quickly got a gap. Two kilometres from the finish, Voeckler held onto a healthy 17” advantage.

Voeckler retained a slim lead at the 200 metre mark but was overtaken as his chasers opened their sprint. Gatto won in Waregem ahead of Bozic and Hayman. Keukeleire managed seventh place. Howard, Docker and Vaitkus came in with the peloton at 2’21”. 

“I’m happy with my race today,” said Keukeleire. “Of course, I was hoping for me once I was in the group of ten, but I know I rode a great race. I’m also really proud of the team. I think we will do good things in the races to come.”