Iljo Keisse (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) scored the biggest road victory of his career in dramatic fashion during stage 7 at the Tour of Turkey. The 29-year-old Belgian has been a frequent habitué of breakaways this season and after having his previous efforts come to naught, today Keisse prevailed despite a near disastrous mishap on the route's final turn with 1km remaining.
Keisse was part of the day's early seven-man break and with 7km remaining to the finish in Izmir, as the peloton was quickly devouring their advantage, the Belgian launched a solo attack.
In the streets of Izmir Keisse led his former breakaway companions by 14 seconds and the peloton by 40 seconds approaching the final kilometre, but despite being aware of the dangerous corner at 1km to go, his front wheel lost traction and he crashed. Nonetheless, Keisse calmly picked himself up, put his chain back on and continued to the finish line where he held off the hard-charging peloton by the slimmest of margins.
"I'm over the moon about this victory," Keisse said. "Here in Turkey my condition is improving day by day. Every day I was a little bit better. Also yesterday I tried to get in the breakaway without luck. Today I chose the right move. The guys in the break were really motivated. In the final I felt strong. I knew that If I kept going on it was possible to arrive until the finish."
A stalwart on the winter's indoor Six Day circuit, Keisse hadn't won a race on the road since 2007, but despite his untimely crash he kept his cool under trying circumstances.
"My first thought was 'What to do now?', but I tried to stay calm," Keisse said. "I looked behind me and I saw the peloton who was arriving. I maintained calm, put on my chain and then I did the ride of my life.
"As a track rider you know how hard it can be to catch somebody in a kilometer. I knew it was possible and I did it! It was a great feeling after the finish. If you look at the podium it seems that I won a bunch sprint with Kittel and Petacchi behind me. It's funny."
Omega Pharma-QuickStep has been on a remarkable tear of good results thus far in 2012, and Keisse's victory pushed the team's win tally to 31 for the season. It was a welcome win for Keisse as he's undergone a trying period of time following a doping positive at the 2008 Six Days of Gent. The Belgian federation banned him for two years then lifted that ban at the end of 2009 and he resumed racing. The UCI appealed that decision, and the Court of Arbitration for sport overturned it, confirming that Keisse was to sit out his entire ban. He was allowed to ride in all areas other than Belgium as of August 2011, but was only allowed to ride in Belgium again as of January 27, 2012.
"I'm happy for myself and for the team who believed in me always, even in the hard times," Keisse said. "I didn't ride too much in the last years on the road but this year I understood immediately that I could do well, that I had a good level of ability. For sure, I have to improve a lot, for example on the climbs, but now I want also to celebrate this victory with my teammates."
The final kilometres were particularly poignant as Keisse drew motivation from his girlfriend and child.
"I want to devote this victory to my girlfriend and my child," Keisse said. "This morning she called me saying that our child was sick. I said 'ok I go in the breakaway so you have something to watch during the afternoon at the television.' It was nice to think about them in the final kilometres."
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