Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) cut a disconsolate figure at the end of stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia after the chance of a win slipped through his fingers after a late crash and enforced bike change. The Belgian had been part of the winning break that took on the dirt roads to Montalcino and with teammate Roger Kluge by his side, the duo were well placed to contest the stage win after the peloton allowed the move to build up a fifteen minute lead before the first of four sectors of gravel roads.
However inside the final 10 kilometres, after the initial 11-man group had been whittled down to just a handful of riders, Vanhoucke crashed. He valiantly chased but was unable to make contact with the leaders. Mauro Schmid (Team Qhubeka Assos) beat Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) to the line with Vanhoucke forced to settle for third, 26 seconds off the winner’s time. Kluge, more accustomed to working for Caleb Ewan – but a Giro stage winner in his own right – finished seventh.
“I am unbelievably disappointed,” said Vanhoucke.
“I really felt I was the strongest rider in the breakaway today, but unfortunately a crash and a bike change at ten kilometres from the finish prevented me from going for the win. I still managed to catch a lot of riders as I launched a furious chase. In the end, I finished just under half a minute behind the winner, but unfortunately I lost a little too much time because of the bike change to go for the stage win.”
After losing Ewan to knee injury on stage 8 Lotto Soudal have changed tack in the race and have targeted breakaways. On stage 11 they put two riders in the break with the Ineos-controlled peloton easing up in the early stages of the pivotal day of racing. With two riders in the move the Belgian team looked to be contention to net their third win of this year’s race.
“Actually, I was a bit surprised that the peloton gave us such a big lead because I thought this was going to be a stage for the general classification riders. Fortunately for us, it turned out differently,” Vanhoucke said.
The 23-year-old hadn’t even planned on being in the break at the start of the race.
“Roger Kluge did a great job and attacked several times so I could save my forces. I really didn’t plan to be in today’s breakaway. Actually, this was the stage I feared the most. In addition to that, I had never ridden on such long gravel sections, not even in training. So I was happy to be part of the front group because I would not have liked to be in the peloton today. Along the way, I also collected some KOM points, maybe they will come in handy later in the race, who knows…”
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