Blegny, Belgium - In just his third UCI race of the season, Kevin Vermaerke claimed the team’s fourth victory of 2019 at Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23. Vermaerke’s win is the third victory in four years for the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team at Liège after Logan Owen claimed the title in 2016 and João Almeida climbed onto the top step in 2018.
“This feels amazing, said an excited Vermaerke. “I made this race a goal of mine at the start of the season, but the last few weeks have been less than ideal with injury and sickness, so it feels really good to have good legs today.”
Sport director Koos Moerenhout described the riders having each other’s backs all day long throughout the 172 km race from Bastogne to Blegny. Doing so proved to be the key to success. There weren’t any surprises, weather or otherwise, but the team was looking for and grabbing opportunities where they could.
“Everybody did his share and played his role,” he said. “Ian did great in the long break. Unfortunately for him, Lotto and Uno-X pulled the breakaway back.”
Three riders were able to get away and Vermaerke successfully bridged across. In the group behind, the riders stayed focussed and attentive. Leading up until the very end Moerenhout kept his fingers crossed in the car, knowing that in a sprint of three [riders], there are no guarantees, “certainly not after the effort Kevin put in.”
“We came into the race with 6 guys who could win, said Vermaerke. “It worked out for me, but it easily could have been another one of the guys.”
The 18-year-old originally from Johannesburg, South Africa wasn’t kidding. The Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team put 4 riders into the top 20. Fellow newcomer Andre Carvalho placed fifth while Ian Garrison continued his hot streak placing 19th. Almeida, last year’s champion, was 20th.
“There wasn’t a plan to ride for somebody in particular today, said Moerenhout. “Everybody’s responsibility is to be there as an individual and as a team. That’s our strength.”
The team has one week off and then is back in action at the Tour of Yorkshire, May 2-5..
(Header image of Kevin Vermaerke by Joyce Jason Ghijs)