No world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, no Nairo Quintana and no Lars Boom on the podium, although all were present at the rain-soaked Dwars door Vlaanderen, the first in a series of cobbled classics. Instead, Professional Continental team Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise walked away with a one-two finish in Waregem on Wednesday afternoon. Jelle Wallays won solo, just ahead of teammate Edward Theuns, who won the sprint for second place ahead of Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Garmin) and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep).
This year, the Belgian team received a €500,000 subsidy from the Flemish government to allow them to keep riding at a high level. In 2014, the team won the EuropeTour and their rider Tom Van Asbroeck won the individual category.
In Dwars door Vlaanderen, they positioned two of their riders in the lead group of four that left a battered peloton behind after tackling the Taainberg climb at more than 50 kilometres from the finish line. The duo of Wallays and Theuns neutralized Kwiatkowski, who went on to finish fourth, while van Baarle took third. A late move from 25-year-old Wallays was enough to secure the victory. It’s his second big win after winning Paris-Tours at the end of last season but Wallays didn’t hesitate to rate this victory higher.
“Obviously I put Dwars door Vlaanderen on number one. Why? Because it starts in my hometown. I’ve got a huge amount of fans here. They were all present here. It’s a big group. Some take a day off from work to be here. If you can win here then that’s fantastic. Paris-Tours is a big race too but if you’re gunning for the classics and you can win one then that’s fantastic,” Wallays said at the post-race press conference.
The four riders in the breakaway move were all youngsters, with Wallays being the oldest rider. Although Kwiatkowski is younger, he has the experience of being a world champion. One journalist asked if the two Topsport Vlaanderen riders were not allowed to lose because they out numbered Kwiatkowski and van Baarle. “Not allowed to lose? Against the world champion? Being young riders, it’s not that obvious to do what we did. Was I the oldest? [surprised] Hm, it’s true I was the oldest rider in the group. We were all young guys. He proved much more than I did,” Wallays said.
“Our advantage was that we were with the two of us. I know Dylan from the youth categories. I didn’t think he was faster than Kwiatkowski. Edward is a finisher. He showed that in recent races. As a team we gave away a great show, which we can’t asses while we’re young. They are all big names. First, I tried to keep off the chasers. I had been in the long breakaway move. I told Edward I would do everything to deliver him. When the gap was a minute I knew there was more room to try other things. Last week, I helped him to the victory in Drenthe. At three kilometres from the finish line we talked. I asked him if I could attack, and he nodded,” Wallays said. And that’s what he did. Kwiatkowski hesitated and looked over to van Baarle to chase too. The latter didn’t plan to work for the world champion and as a result Wallays rode to the victory.
Theuns was nearly as pleased as Wallays. In the sprint, van Baarle and Kwiatkowski were easily beaten by the 23-year-old Belgian rider. “I felt super strong today. I counted on my sprint and Jelle was able to profit if the others hesitated. I was confident that I could win in the sprint. Jelle, his victory in Paris-Tours was great but claiming a 1-2 double in Dwars door Vlaanderen is fantastic. On Sunday, I want to show myself again in Gent-Wevelgem,” Theuns said.
No WorldTour teams interested in Wallays
At the post-race press conference it turned out Wallays was somewhat disappointed to still be riding for the Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise team after his strong 2014 season. The young Belgian rider hopes to ride a Grand Tour in the near future and clearly regretted not having made the next step in his career this season. He was asked why he was still riding at the Belgian development team despite his big win in 2014. It turned out he wasn’t offered a spot at a WorldTour team.
“That’s a question for those ProTour (sic) teams. I think I already showed what I’m capable of. I finished on the podium at the Belgian Championships as a neo-professional. Winning Paris-Tours, winning Lichtervelde, now also Dwars door Vlaanderen. I hope I can head to a ProTour team to help a big rider. If I can ride in front of the peloton. That’s something I can do for a long time. At crucial moments I can strengthen a team.
“No ProTour teams contacted me. The only one who contacted me was Patrick Lefevere [Etixx-QuickStep]. He’s been following me since the youth categories in the Beveren 2000 team. He called me to say he had no room for a classics rider, which I am. I understand that and at least I knew he was keeping an eye on me.”
Wallays explained he would have no problems to work for another rider as he was already pleased with the results he achieved so far.
“There are a lot of riders who would love to have a palmarès like me. I want to ride a Grand Tour. That’s something I can’t do here at Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise. I thanked my team twice now with great victories. They would certainly let me go to a ProTour team with pleasure.”
Wallays is an attacker and teams might be doubting whether to take on a rider with his characteristics who has failed to show off his skills in the spring classics in recent years.
“During my first season I had knee problems during the spring classics. Then I crashed hard in the E3 Harelbeke and rode all the spring classics with bruised ribs. Last year, I had a severe intestinal infection, which forced me to skip the E3 Harelbeke. That’s how I lost three, four years. In two weeks time you have to prove yourself. Now it’s different. I can approach the next races in a comfortable way.”
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