Jens Debusschere, Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Tony Gallopin, Marcel Sieberg, Nikolas Maes, Jurgen Roelandts and Jelle Wallays - nearly all of the riders on the team seemed potential contenders for the 203km long spring one-day. Nevertheless, Wallays was the only man in the decisive breakaway move, and he wasn't able to follow the last four-man move on the Paterberg at 30 kilometres from the finish. In two days, the team will want to perform better at the E3 Harelbeke.
On the second and third climb of the race on Wednesday, Lotto Soudal was active with moves from De Buyst and Wallays, but nothing came of their aggression. On the fourth climb of the day, the Berendries, Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) attacked and got into a move with 21 riders. Wallays was the lone Lotto Soudal rider in the escape, and he was dropped two climbs later.
"Nobody expected the race would start there," Benoot said. "It's narrow there and I was not really that far back when I heard those guys were going. What surprised me the most was that some teams, who were without men up front, didn't work like Cannondale and Trek. They didn't go flat out until the Eikenberg.
"We had Jelle Wallays up front and he didn't have to work. On the Paterberg he was boxed in, I heard."
Four of the riders in the breakaway group survived all the scrimmages and battled for the victory. A small peloton sprinted for fifth place and it was Tiesj Benoot who finished third in this sprint.
"The team made the mistake of not having another rider in the breakaway move on the Berendries," Benoot said. "We missed out in the group of 16. It wasn't a matter of being good or not but a matter of jumping or not. Everybody who wanted could've been in that move. We had Wally [Wallays] in front, and also Jasper De Buyst but I think he broke his wheel on the Leberg. The rest of us were too far back. We were constantly chasing the facts, that's no secret. With this team more can be expected. It's clear where things went wrong but I don't think it has much to do with form."
The 23-year-old Belgian rider is one of the team's leaders for the spring classics, already showing his talent in 2015 with a fifth place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. He came away disappointed in Dwars door Vlaanderen.
"Today I rode a poor race in terms of positioning," he said. "Sometimes I was unlucky to be just behind someone who crashes. Towards the end I was going better. My sensations after Milan-San Remo were good too. I improved as the miles went down. That's good, I wasn't even tired. I did have other problems, with a blocked back. Today I'm sixth or seventh, that's good too.
"I'm on schedule. Just like last year I wasn't not feeling super great in the legs. That's positive for Friday and next week. Last year was a different race too. I don't think it was going super fast today."
When glancing back on his race on Wednesday, Benoot was asked if it wasn't possible to join the Quick-Step Floors' move with Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar. The duo attacked the peloton on the Paterberg and joined the chase group behind the four leaders.
"On the Paterberg I was riding in sixth or seventh place, just behind Gijs Van Hoecke. It seemed like he was riding with a triple. I don't think I've ever climbed up the Paterberg that slow. It's too steep to pass on the cobbles. At the bottom I made the mistake of being too far back in 10th position. I immediately moved up a few positions on the cobbles but then you have to go into the gutter. Then he lost all speed. It was terrible. I was thinking: 'What's this?' If I had been well positioned I might have been able to follow."
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