Espoir rider Cole House is the first American to have won the GP Waregem, one of the more prestigious Belgian races for the espoirs category. House, a member of the U23 BMC Racing Team and racing under the auspices of the United States National Developmental Team, won the event by out-sprinting the reduced group of rivals who succeeded in making it to the finish line together.
Supported by his teammate Austin Carroll until the very final circuits, House was on his own in the end. "I certainly didn't have many friends in that lead group!" House joked. "I just tried not to do more work than I had to, and watched out for the teams that had three or four guys still in the front group."
With only four USA Development Team members racing the event in cold and wet conditions, the squad had to have to use its wits as much as its legs to keep competitive. "The racing level was so high at this event, and some teams like the U23 Quick Step had ten to 12 riders to work with," USA National Developmental Team Coach Noel Dejonckheere said. "With so few teammates racing today, our guys had to be alert and know how to profit from the work of the bigger teams."
"With around 20 km to go, a group of five guys managed to break away, and at that point I figured the race was probably over," added House. "But luckily on the final lap just after the cobbled section everything came together again."
With just eight kilometres remaining and two small climbs to negotiate, the lead group was reduced to just 13 riders. "I wasn't certain how Cole was going to handle the last several kilometres since the weather was so cold by that time that I knew the race was going to get very hard for him," Dejonckheere explained. "But Cole played it cool in the end and was able to take the race with a fantastic sprint."
"When we got to the corner one kilometre from the finish, that's when I thought 'shoot, I can actually win this!'" House said. "People were still attacking, but I just put my head down with about 300 metres to go; I thought I was going to get caught but when I looked back between my legs, I had won by three or four bike lengths!" Of the 220 participants at the start of the race, only 38 riders remained at the finish.
House the next American Classics contender?
"This is really a huge result for our team since it shows what level of rider we have in development," BMC Directeur Sportif John Lelangue said. "House's victory is a big satisfaction and it confirms all the confidence we had in him and his abilities."
Dejonckheere agreed with this assessment. "Being only 20 years old, Cole still has a lot to learn of course, but if he keeps developing as he should, I have no doubt that he has the talent to win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders in six or seven years." Moreover, the rider finished well in similarly difficult Belgian races in the past, most notably placing seventh in the 2008 U23 version of the Tour of Flanders.
Tyler Farrar, now racing for Team Garmin-Slipstream, previously was the best placed American at the GP Waregem, having finished second four years ago. "Looking at what Tyler is doing now, it's a pretty good indicator for Cole's potential," Dejonckheere said.
Recent racing has also pointed to the promising development of several of BMC's youngest racers. "I am very happy with the way Ian McKissick has been fighting to improve on the cobbles, even though it might not be his particular area of specialisation," Lelangue added. "And what we have seen from Chad Beyer and Brent Bookwalter all year is also very encouraging; these three riders along with Cole House will definitely do some very good things not only in the next years, but in the next weeks."
See the full results of the race.