After 9th place in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad yesterday, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl responded with a victory in Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne from Fabio Jakobsen. A leading trio of Laporte, Narvaez and plucky Taco van der Hoorn were caught in the last meters of the race, after the sprint teams chased hard in the flat finish.
Early in the race a 7-man breakaway formed, including Dutch YouTube sensation Bas Tietema, who had shown decent legs in the Tour of Antalya sprint stages where he helped his teammates. It is not an easy job to get into breakaways in spring classics, particularly this early in the season. Tietema in the off-season signed a pro contract with Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB, a Belgian Pro Continental team. He had not raced in UCI races for a few years and after making great progress in the off-season he earned his chance and we are sure Bingoal, who sponsor both the team and his YouTube channel, are appreciative of the increased exposure.
The breakaway was caught with 62 km to go when Tiesj Benoot attacked from the peloton on Cote de Trieu. Yesterday he did a great job for Wout van Aert in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and today Benoot was again active with Jumbo-Visma not wanting a huge bunch sprint. Van Aert was not starting in Kuurne, and Jumbo-Visma sprinter for this race was Christoph Laporte who would not want to make it to the finish with a group containing Fabio Jakobsen or Caleb Ewan.
The tempo was high as the peloton shattered in the hilly section in smaller packs. With 50 km to go a very dangerous 17-man leading group formed with big names such as Pidcock, Asgreen, Küng, and Trentin. Many teams were represented, with the biggest winners being Jumbo-Visma, who had Benoot, Van Hooydonck and their fast-man Laporte in the group. From the early breakaway there was also Livyns, Durbridge and van der Hoorn. Also, 20-year-old Kevin Vauquelin, who was one of the strongest climbers in Tour of Oman, was there, showing potential for classics too.
Behind in the peloton Israel Premier-Tech was chasing with full force for Giacomo Nizzolo. Other teams also chased that were not represented, such as Lotto-Soudal, Alpecin-Fenix, and Cofidis. Bahrain-Victorious chased too, as they had sprinters Sonny Colbrelli and Phil Bauhaus in the peloton, although Fred Wright was in the leading group.
The riders in the first group started attacking each other, particularly as the likes of Trentin and Küng did not want a sprint finish. Quick-step were in a dangerous position as they were represented in the front group by Asgreen, meaning they did not have to chase, but they probably had a bigger chance at victory if the group came back together and Jakobsen could sprint. The peloton eventually caught the break with 17 km to go, but right before that Laporte, Narvaez and van der Hoorn broke away from the first group. Laporte was definitely the fastest from this trio although Narvaez appeared fresh, after he had once again sat in the wheels a lot in the breakaway.
The trio only had a 10-second lead and every sprinter team was chasing after them. Quick-Step sacrificed every single rider in their team to reduce the gap, leaving no lead-out for their fast-man Fabio Jakobsen. Through the narrow streets and corners of the small towns, Jumbo-Visma and Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux tried to block and slow down the peloton as they both had riders in the first group.
It was a nail-biting finish, but in the last 100 meters the leading trio were caught as the top sprinters overtook them. The fastest was Fabio Jakobsen, who beat Caleb Ewan by a wheel length despite Ewan sitting in his draft for over 5 seconds. Jakobsen’s win was even more impressive as he had no lead-out after Quick-Step needed to chase the breakaway and he had arguably the world’s fastest sprinter in his wheel. Laporte and van der Hoorn finished 8th and 10th respectively, as they were caught in the last meters.
Ewan earned 150 UCI points for his 2nd place, a nice haul compared to what UAE Tour may have offered, but Lotto-Soudal’s rivals for relegation, Arkea-Samsic, did a monster performance, grabbing 285 UCI points with Hugo Hofstetter (3rd), Daniel McLay (4th) and Amaury Capiot (7th). The multiple sprinter strategy might pay-off big time for Arkea-Samsic, who are targeting all one-day races with multiple sprinters, where it is relatively easier to obtain more UCI points than stage races.