Having soloed to victory on Stage 6 and into the overall race lead, Tim Wellens finished safely in the bunch on the seventh and final stage of the Eneco Tour to claim his first career stage race win. The 23-year-old took over the race lead with his first professional win and was protected by his teammates on the 183.4km stage from Riemst to Sittard-Geleen to finish seven seconds ahead of Lars Boom (Belkin) and 13 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano).
The victory is the first overall win for Lotto-Belisol in 2014.
"Before this weekend I had never won a race, so this is definitely the highlight of my career so far," Wellens explained. "A WorldTour victory in Belgium is really special. Many people cheered for me along the way, the start town of Riemst is only 20 kilometres from my parents' house."
Wellens made his grand tour debut at the Giro d'Italia in May where he impressed the team enough to secure a contract extension. The Belgian's contract with the team was due to end at the conclusion of this year but his attacking and aggressive racing, which saw him finish second on stage 6 and stage 17, which demonstrate his abilities to general manager, Marc Sergeant.
"The two second places are nice rewards," Sergeant said of the Giro. "The next years we'll have to see together with him where his possibilities lie, in one-day races and stage races. As a team I think the development of Tim is a prototype example of how we can form Belgian riders."
Knowing that both Belkin and Giant-Shimano would put the hammer down at the sign of the slightest breeze on the final stage to take the leader's jersey back, Wellens explained that his team ensured he was at the front of the race and prepared for any attacks.
"Before the stage there was more attention for the danger of the wind than for Boom and Dumoulin," Wellens said. "The way the team performed today is fantastic. I could actually be relaxed in the wheel of Sieberg first and then that of Roelandts. Belkin tried to make an echelon twice, but we never had problems. We were really focused and only on the last hill Boom and Dumoulin tried to force something."
Having felt ill before the start of the race, Wellens added that as the race went on, he felt stronger by the day.
"Two days before the start I went to see the team doctor because I was ill. We postponed the decision to start and of course I'm very pleased I did start. The beginning of the week was difficult for the team, but as of Friday I started believing there were opportunities. And with Jelle Vanendert I had a teammate who was really strong as well."
Appreciative and grateful for the support of the team, Wellens explained what it means to be a Belgian in the Belgian squad.
"The opportunities me and other young Belgian riders get wouldn't be there without the immense support of Lotto," Wellens said. "The different projects with which they give chances to young riders to develop their talent brought me to where I am today. The Belgian cycling project, with the support of so many Belgian partners, is indispensable for our cycling sport."
Wellens will only ride one grand tour this year with the remainder of his season to consist of one-day races in which he will have his own opportunities and also helping his teammates.
"This victory doesn't mean I will start as a favourite in the next one-day races of the WorldTour, but I'm eager to perform well in Plouay – working for the team – Québec, Montréal and Lombardia."