Jan Bakelants (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) won stage 5 of the Tour de Wallonie from a bunch sprint as race leader Robert Stannard (Alpecin-Deceuninck) sewed up the overall title with his second-place finish in Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont, trailed by Axel Laurance (B&B Hotels-KTM) in third.
The Australian overall champion, who also secured the sprint classification, came away with two podiums and one fourth across the five days of racing.
Loic Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) secured second in the final standings, 10 seconds back, and Matthias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) was third, another two seconds down.
Before the awards ceremony, Bakelants was extremely emotional, as this was his first stage race victory since 2015.
"This victory is a proof for old riders to keep believing. After so many difficult years," Bakelants said. "Today I worked hard for the team, I wanted to launch Lorenzo Rota for the sprint. But I made the gap. This victory is incredible."
The fifth and final day of racing in Belgium was the longest, 214.8 kilometres, and provided 20km of cobbled sections. After 60km of flat terrain, 14 riders had distanced themselves at the front but the gap had dropped below one minute.
The list of riders who did not finish stage 5 was also long, 27 not surviving to the finish in Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont, including Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), who was involved in a crash on the second cobbled sector and abandoned. His team later said the Eritrean rider did not sustain any serious injuries and can, as planned, continue his preparation for his next goals.
It was not long after Girmay's departure that the gap continued to fade and riders fell off the pace. Five riders took up an assault from the peloton - Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech), Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost), Patrick Gamper (Bora-Hansgrohe), Luc Wirtgen (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) and Aaron van Poucke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
After more reshuffling and with 30km to go there were eight leaders at the front - Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Healy, Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers), Vanmarcke, Davide Ballerini (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Wirtgen and Dries van Gestel (TotalEnergies). In the group, Healy was best placed at 2:58 behind race leader Stannard.
On the final of eight cobbled sectors, just under 10km from the finish, four riders in the peloton crashed - Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroën), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) Quentin Jauregui (B&B Hotels-KTM), Pim Ronhaar (Baloise-Trek Lions).
With 5.5km to go, Ballerini and Trentin attacked and Vanmarcke took up the chase behind and they were joined by Theuns. Then Theuns launched his own attack, with Vanmarcke countering.
Inside 1.5km the leaders had been caught by the bunch and Bakelants hit the front and held off Stannard for the victory.
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Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).
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