Kevin Vermaerke kept the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège title in the Hagens Berman Axeon stables this week, following João Almeida’s win last year and Logan Owen's win in 2016. The 18-year-old American won a three-up sprint in Blegny at the end of the 171.4km race ahead of Viktor Vershaeve of Germany and Tobias Foss of Uno-X Norwegian Development Team.
Vermaerke bridged to a breakaway of three riders that escaped after the peloton brought a move containing teammate Ian Garrison back into the fold. Theo Nonnez (Equipe Continentale Groupama-FDJ) was with the leaders but lost his place before the finish, where Vermaerke sprinted to an emphatic victory. Nonnez came in seven seconds later and eight seconds ahead of a large chasing group.
“Everybody did his share and played his role,” said Hagens Berman Axeon sports director Koos Moerenhout. “Ian did great in the long break. Unfortunately for him, Lotto and Uno-X pulled the breakaway back.”
Hagens Berman Axeon put four riders into the top 20, with first-year rider Andre Carvalho in fifth, Garrison in 19th and Almeida, last year’s champion, in 20th.
“There wasn’t a plan to ride for somebody in particular today,” Moerenhout said. “Everybody’s responsibility is to be there as an individual and as a team. That’s our strength.”
Vermaerke, originally from South Africa but now living in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, is in his first year with Hagens Berman Axeon after riding for Roy Knickman’s Lux-Stradling team as a junior. He won the Highland Circuit Race stage of the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour Redlands Bicycle Classic in March and finished second overall there. Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 is only his third UCI race this season.
“This feels amazing,” Vermaerke said after the race. “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.”
The Hagens Berman Axeon riders will take one week off and then return to action at the Tour de Yorkshire May 2-5. The team will also ride the WorldTour Amgen Tour of California May 12-18.