Racing in Belgium is not for the faint of heart and after a few tumbles and a string of abandons, Chris Lawless finally found a bit of luck racing in Flanders. The Team Sky rider navigated a wet and precarious day around Schoten to take third place at Scheldeprijs.
After winning the penultimate stage of Coppi e Bartali at the end of March, it is Lawless' second trip to the podium in his fledgeling professional career.
"It's good to stay upright in a race in Belgium. I've had a couple of crashes, that's why it was good, and I managed to finish it off with a podium," Lawless told Cyclingnews. "If someone told me before I started that I would get a podium at Scheldeprijs in my first year, I'd have said that I'll be happy with that. I thought it would be difficult to get a win this year and I've already done that. I've got a bit of a break now, and hopefully, I'll be back even stronger."
It was the first outing for a new-look Scheldeprijs course after the race start was moved from Antwerp for 2017, following the move of the Tour of Flanders depart. Last year's race began in Tom Boonen's birthplace of Mol, but that was only ever going to be a one-off special and the race switched to Terneuzen. That meant plenty of riding near the coast and the wind was always going to play a factor, but some additional rain threw in extra difficulty for the riders.
"If it was going down to a sprint then it was always for me but as I'm still pretty young, a neo-pro, it's hard to back me completely so the other lads were allowed a free role," said Lawless. "It was pretty hard all day because of the wind with the new course this year. Any racing that goes around Zeeland is going to be pretty tough because of the wind. Even when there isn't too much wind out there there's always the potential to split up. We had to be switched on all day.
"The finish circuits are really twisty up here so you need to be up front. It wasn't too bad because it was such a small group coming into the finishing circuit, which made it a lot easier and a bit more relaxed. But when the rain started to come down that was another thing to add to an already difficult finishing circuit."
It wasn't just the new course that provided a talking point at the end of the day with sprinters Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) among the 35 riders disqualified for failing to stop at a level crossing. Lawless said after the stage that their absence didn't impact the way he raced in the end.
"I wasn't really too aware of it. I could hear a couple of things on my race radio but I was just concentrating on the job in hand. I was just going to try and do my best no matter what the competition was and that's what I did today," he said.
Scheldeprijs is the last race for Lawless in this part of the season as he takes a short break ahead of a possible start at the Tour de Yorkshire at the start of May. Just over three months into his professional career, after moving from Axeon Hagens Berman to Team Sky over the winter, the 22-year-old is happy with the way that things are going.
"It's been a good experience. It's always going to be difficult stepping up to this level but I think I've managed to do it pretty well, and hopefully, I'll be able to get even stronger."
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