There are few men who can keep up with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) once they go flat-out on uphill roads. Unsurprisingly, Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) lost ground, too, but the 35-year-old Belgian fought his way back to their wheel at the Brabantse Pijl, just before cornering into the 220m-long finishing straight. By that time there was no more fuel in his tank and he settled for third place once the sprint got underway. Leukemans was pleased by his performance, especially considering he was the only rider of the trio to have raced Paris-Roubaix three days earlier.
"I can accept this result," Leukemans said. "Especially if you've done Roubaix and you're not completely recovered from that one and run into the world champion and Sagan who both didn't race Roubaix... I also had been in a move that drained my energy levels for a quite a while."
In the Brabantse Pijl Leukemans anticipated the attack from the big guns. Just before hitting the second of three local laps at 50km from the finish, he followed Paul Voss (NetApp-Endura) in chasing down a move from compatriot Stijn Devolder (RadioShack Leopard).
"I didn't even know it was Devolder. I just tried something quite early because the local laps are longer than in the past, which allows for more recovery. Voss went and I was well positioned in front. I just followed. I also spotted Gilbert and I thought that if he went the selection would already have been made. Once up the climb there was only the two of us and that wasn't so good," Leukemans said.
Nevertheless the duo kept going and eventually they made it to the early leaders. Only 30km later they were finally joined by Gilbert, who made the juncture with his teammate Greg Van Avermaet, Sagan, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano). Despite spending a lot of energy in the breakaway move Leukemans managed to play a role in the finale.
"I was just sitting on their wheel but he – Sagan – accelerated so fast. I quickly told myself to focus on the podium. That's why I went full gas over Van Avermaet, making sure I stayed ahead of him."
Leukemans referred to Paris-Roubaix to point out that the two riders ahead of him at the finish line were much more fresh than him. In Paris-Roubaix the Belgian rider had been unlucky. Before the start of the Brabantse Pijl he also regretted that he wasn't helped by teammate Juan Antonio Flecha, who accelerated while he was trying to bridge back up after a mechanical. While hoping for the podium or at least the top-10 Leukemans had to settle for 16th place at the Hell of the North. Leukemans finished in the large group that sprinted for eighth place on the vélodrome in Roubaix.
"You can run into bad luck in Roubaix. If it happens at a bad moment then it's over. Roubaix is behind us now and there's nothing I can change about it now."
What lays ahead is the Amstel Gold Race. Leukemans will be trying to improve on his best-ever result on the Cauberg which is a seventh place achieved in both 2011 and 2005.
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