The second race of the season for the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team was also it’s second 1.HC category race in team history. The one day hors categorie race from Bredene, Belgium to Handzame covered 199 km and like Nokere Koerse, included cobbled sections as well as a few climbing sections. The 7% grade Kemmelberg at the 90 km mark was both.
Immediately after the neutral zone, riders in the peloton were eager to establish a breakaway. Ivo Oliveira joined a small group that made the first attempt to escape, but was soon after brought back by the field.
Another attempt was made though, this time it included 18-year-old Maikel Zijlaard, former Tour of Flanders Juniors winner. The breakaway held. For the better part of the day, the eight rider break enjoyed a four minute advantage on the peloton (at its most, the gap was just under seven minutes).
After the passage of the Kemmelberg, the peloton was briefly cut into 2 large parts. Once the group came back together, the teams started to organize.
The four laps of a 17.6 km circuit over the Ruidenberg was where the peloton started to ratchet up it’s pursuit of the break. On the second pass of Ruidenberg, the pace of the breakaway was too much for Zijlaard, who slipped off the back and was absorbed by the main group.
“When we broke away, I was feeling really good,” said Zijlaard. “We kept the speed high and 25 km before the finish it was too much so I had to let them [the break] go. I’m really happy with my performance today.”
With 20 km left in the race, Dennis Coenen (Cibel - Cebon) and David Boucher (Tartaletto - Isorex) rode the break hard in an attempt to maintain an advantage. But the peloton, with the help of the World Tour teams, brought the gap down to under a minute. The break was eventually caught and a bunch sprint appeared inevitable.
“The team worked great together today,” said sport director Koos Moerenhout. “Joao and Ivo did a good job putting Jasper and Rui into position, but when Jasper broke a wheel with 4 km left, we went all in for Rui and made some space behind the big teams to get him set up.”
The group was unorganized coming into the finish, but Rui Oliveira made a brilliant move on the left side, and launched himself into 7th place. Alvaro Hodeg (Quick-Step Floors) was the overall winner.
“I felt really good in the sprint, but it was super chaotic and I didn’t feel like I could sprint my max,” said an excited Oliveira. “I’m super happy with the result and feel like it’s a boost of motivation to what I think I’m capable of doing. In the end, with just five riders it was really tough, but I think we showed with teamwork we can do great things. Shout out to Maikel getting in the break and Ivo and Joao for the work in the bunch. It’s a pity that Jasper broke his wheel and couldn’t be there in the finish.”
Ivo Oliveira finished 34th, Joao Almeida 56th, Jasper Philipsen 71st, and Maikel Zijlaard DNF after a long day in the break.
The team is back in action on March 21st at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
(Photo: Davey Wilson)