Van Meirhaeghe completes full set Tour of Oman breakaways

Belgian takes most aggressive rider competition

Two races into his professional career, Jef Van Meirhaeghe (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) has been in more breakaways than most. The Belgian went up the road every single day at the Tour of Oman, completing his full house on the final day, and finishing third on the stage. As the days went on there was a sense of anticipation when the escapees were named and there would be a wry smile when Van Meirhaeghe’s name was finally called out on race radio.

“It wasn’t planned. You don’t plan things like that,” Van Meirhaeghe said before stepping onto the podium to collect the jersey for the most aggressive rider, which he won by an astonishing 19 points.

“I’ve never done it before. I was in a pretty good team last year, the Lotto-Belisol under 23, and we had to control a lot of races because we would have the leader’s jersey, or we had [Bretagne-Séché neo-professional] Dan McLay, and we had to ride a lot for him, so I’m used to riding in the front and going hard but this is another category, this is another thing.”

It was fitting that after spending every stage on the attack, the break on the final day would stick to the finish. With a 13-point lead in the most aggressive rider classification and only nine points available on the final day, Van Meirhaeghe needn’t have gone on the attack on stage six but he did and he had to suffer for the previous days’ efforts.

“I am it was pretty hard today when Iljo went, I wasn’t on the wheel directly at the start,” he explained. “It was very hard for me to get on the wheel but Matthias and Danny came into the group and they were really motoring, they were really going hard. I didn’t do all the work that they did because my legs hurt a lot before we even started. I’m pretty happy with this today and I think it’s a good way to start my pro career.”

Van Meirhaeghe turned professional at the start of this season with the Belgian Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise team after serving a three-year apprenticeship on the Lotto-Belisol development squad. He has an impressive palmarès that includes victories at the junior Tour of Flanders and he is the reigning under-23 Belgian national champion.

His adventure began on day one where he was looking to take the white jersey of best young rider through bonus seconds but that went to Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) after he took five seconds in the two intermediate sprints. After ‘Plan A’ failed the 23-year-old neo-pro turned to ‘Plan B’ which developed further than he could have imagined.

“I was pretty disappointed with that so the second day I went in the break again together with Preben Van Hecke my teammate,” said Van Meirhaeghe. “He helped me a lot to get the most aggressive rider’s jersey then the day after, that really wasn’t planned. Normally I was just going for the 30 or 40k and then there was a sprint and I would drop back then but the legs didn’t feel like dropping.”

Van Meirhaeghe was saved from six days on the attack when stage 5 was first shortened due to the high winds on the coast and then eventually cancelled after extreme heat caused a number of riders to suffer tyre blow outs on the descent of Bousher Al Amerat climb. The unexpected rest day surely helped him make it through to the finish on the final stage but he was disappointed not to race.

“I was pretty afraid yesterday about the time limit when they shortened the stage and it was only 70 kilometres and if they went hard then it would be hard to make the time split. I wasn’t happy that we weren’t racing. I wanted to race but it was the right thing to do because it was very dangerous.”

Following Oman, Van Meirhaeghe will race his first Classics campaign as a professional where we may see him out front once again. “My first classic is Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne so I hope I go good there, I had some good training this week. I don’t know if I’m going to do a breakaway, but we’ll see.”

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