An extended break from racing paid dividends for Tim Wellens as the Belgian took an impressive solo win at Brabantse Pijl. Wellens hadn't raced since Paris-Nice, illness and a change in calendar resulting in him missing the Tour of the Basque Country and Volta a Catalunya.
"It was the plan to let the race explode as early as possible, because we had such a strong line-up," Wellens said of Lotto Soudal's tactics.
"That's what we did with over 70 kilometres to go. Rémy Mertz had first controlled the gap on his own for sixty kilometres, until he got help from a rider of BMC and one of Bahrain. Maxime Monfort raised the pace on the local circuit and that caused the peloton to split. It was our plan to send a rider in the break afterwards and that was the case with Tosh Van der Sande.
"I thought for a while that they would remain ahead as there was not immediately a team that took control of the chase. When they got caught, Jelle Vanendert accelerated as I had asked. He did that perfectly. I attacked on a section with a slight headwind. I had to fight at first to get a gap, but when Pauwels and Serry came off the front my lead grew up to 25 seconds."
Since his first pro win in 2014, Wellens has set himself the goal of bettering his win count year on year. In 2017, he won seven races but four months into the new season and the 26-year-old already has four wins. His past successes providing Wellens with the knowledge and confidence of what is required to take victory as he explained.
"The past years I learned to choose the best moment to attack. Today that was with 7.8 kilometres to go and that meant that I needed to go full for about ten minutes," he said. "That went really well, I had super legs. This gives me confidence for the upcoming races, even though they are of a higher level. With the team we had today, we are more than ready."
With time to soak in the occasion as he rode solo to the finish line, Wellens declined an ostentatious celebration. Instead, he opted to raise his right arm and point to the sky in remembrance of Michael Goolaerts. The 23-year-old died of a heart attack at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday and Wellens explained he wanted to pay his respects to a fellow professional.
"Of course we talk about what happened with Michael Goolaerts, in the peloton and in the team," said Wellens, who also wore a black armband in the race.
"It was a very quiet atmosphere at the start. There are teammates of mine that have raced with Michael. I know his teammates Sean De Bie and Zico Waeytens very well. They're going through a difficult time and I'm trying to support them."
"I didn't want to celebrate because everyone is still rightly thinking about Michael. It's very sad what happened."
With the win in his pocket, the second one-day victory of the season following Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana in January, Wellens is aiming for his best Ardennes week to dat. Starting Sunday at Amstel Gold Race.