Voeckler victorious through rain and hail in Brabantse Pijl

First win of 2012 for Europcar rider

French star Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) showed off his good form and rode to a solo victory through hail and rain at the Brabantse Pijl-La Flèche Brabançonne in Overijse, Belgium. The 32-year-old attacked a diminished peloton on wet roads 35km from the finish and despite efforts from local riders Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol), the Frenchman went the distance.

Voeckler endured stints of heavy precipitation in the final kilometres but rode flawlessly over the tricky parcours to claim his first victory of the 2012 season, 1:11 ahead of a chase group led in by Oscar Freire (Katusha and Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator).

"I'm really happy to have won my first race of the season," Voeckler told Sporza. "I love this race and finished fifth some years ago [sixth in 2010-ed.]. On the wet roads it was hard to ride in the peloton and since there were no more strong teams to control the race I tried something. I figured some would come back but that didn't happen. I wanted to get a gap of a minute as soon as possible to take away the believe in the chase group. I've got the legs for these races. I would love to do a good result at the Amstel Gold Race but this result doesn't mean anything. It's not a specific goal because there's a lot of strong men at the start."

In Voeckler's wake a chase group featuring pre-race favorites Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) and three-time winner Oscar Freire (Katusha) battled for second place but they were surprised by a move from Fabio Duarte (Colombia Coldeportes) with four kilometres remaining. The 25-year-old Colombian rider appeared to have second place secured, but as he struggled in the tough finale he was passed by Freire and Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) on the final straight within sight of the finish line; Duarte finished fourth while Greg Van Avermaet won the sprint for fifth place.

"The winner of today was the strongest," said Freire. "He raced really good and attacked at a difficult moment. He was the best rider in the race."

The Spaniard held off Serry in the sprint but nevertheless the young Belgian was pleased with his result. "I can't believe it," Serry told Sporza. "I've been aiming to do well in these races but I didn't expect to be this good. I saved some energy in the last lap and had something left to follow Freire."

The peloton featuring last year's winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC) finished two minutes behind Voeckler. Pre-race favorite Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) crashed before the finale got underway and never played a role in the race's outcome.

Much earlier and in sunny weather conditions the riders rolled out of the historical center of university town Leuven, Belgium for the start of the 195km race.

After several attempts Daniel Schorn (Team NetApp) set-up a breakaway group with Maxim Belkov (Katusha) and Artem Ovechkin (RusVelo). The trio powered away after 30km of racing and reached a maximum gap of more than five minutes, 64km into the race. Just before arriving near the finish town Overijse and its endless series of climbs, rain and hail came down on the riders' backs.

On the wet roads Andy Schleck crashed together with some other riders on a roundabout 69km from the finish. It took a long time for the RadioShack-Nissan rider to bridge back up to the peloton where the BMC team of Philippe Gilbert as well as Rabobank set a fast pace. The Luxembourger drafted behind the team car for a long time, received a couple of pushes and eventually joined the back side of the peloton about six kilometres later, just before the next climb. On that climb, the Hagaard, Schleck didn't move up in the group and he quickly sat up. Ten kilometres later Schleck crossed the finish line for the first of four 13km finishing laps, more than three minutes behind the peloton.

Tough finale in Overijse

In advance of starting the first finishing circuit, 2011 champion Philippe Gilbert accelerated twice on the climbs of the Hertstraat and then on the Ijskelderlaan without causing much damage. Some more accelerations followed including efforts from Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Jerôme Pineau (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). While off the front alone, Pineau crashed on a tricky, twisting descent towards the final climb of the Schavei. Meanwhile, at the front of the race, Schorn dropped his breakaway companions on that series of climbs and he continued solo while the peloton trailed the Austrian by 1:40.

During the first finishing circuit Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) attacked on the cobbled Hertstraat. He gained some ground but a counter-attack from Gilbert and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) brought everybody back together. On the same descent where Pineau had crashed, his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Gerald Ciolek also hit the deck.

Schorn began the second local lap with half a minute on Belkov and 1:10 on the peloton. During this lap Thomas Voeckler powered away from the peloton over the top of the Hagaard, 35km from the finish line. Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Vanendert failed to bring back Voeckler on the next climb and the Frenchman was gone.

In the chase group Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) showed his good form on the climbs but he, too, came to grief on the twisting descent which had already claimed Pineau and Ciolek.

Meanwhile, Voeckler blasted past Schorn and hit the penultimate lap with 23 seconds on the first chase group that included Van Avermaet, Vanendert, Devenyns, Oscar Freire (Katusha), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda) and a tired Schorn; the peloton trailed Voeckler by 47 seconds.

Voeckler continued to extend his lead over the chase group and entering the final lap of the finishing circuit his advantage over the chasers had grown to 1:10. Just prior to beginning the final lap, Fabio Duarte (Colombia Coldeportes) escaped the peloton and quickly bridged to the chasers.

Voeckler further extended his gap over the chase group on his way to a commanding solo victory amidst stints of rain and hail. Duarte attacked the chase group with four kilometres remaining but was caught and passed by both Freire and Serry inside the final 200m, resulting in a fourth place finish behind the Spaniard and Belgian.

Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar4:49:07 
2Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team0:01:11 
3Pieter Serry (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
4Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes0:01:14 
5Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:01:17 
6Alex Howes (USA) Garmin-Barracuda  
7Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  
8Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma - QuickStep  
9Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:01:27 
10Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team0:01:54 
11Ryan Anderson (Can) Spidertech powered by C100:01:56 
12Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:01:58 
13Elia Favilli (Ita) Farnese Vini - Selle Italia  
14Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Garmin-Barracuda  
15Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
16Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan  
17Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
18Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Katusha Team  
19Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
20Thomas Dekker (Ned) Garmin-Barracuda  
21Nelson Oliveira (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan  
22Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar  
23Marc De Maar (AHo) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team  
24Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Argos-Shimano  
25Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma - QuickStep  
26Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
27Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
28Pavel Brutt (Rus) Katusha Team  
29Jordi Simon Casulleras (Spa) Andalucia0:02:09 
30Brian Bulgac (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team0:02:19 
31Thierry Hupond (Fra) Argos-Shimano  
32Johan Chaves Rubio (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes  
33Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
34Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team0:02:23 
35Jose Vicente Toribio Alcolea (Spa) Andalucia0:02:42 
36Ben Hermans (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan0:03:11 
37Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Team Netapp  
38Manuele Boaro (Ita) Team Saxo Bank0:04:02 
39Yann Huguet (Fra) Argos-Shimano  
40Wilson Alexandro Marentes Torres (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes0:04:47 
41Philip Deignan (Irl) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team0:05:11 
42Rory Sutherland (Aus) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team0:05:30 
43Federico Canuti (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
44Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Omega Pharma - QuickStep0:05:53 

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