2017: Arnaud Démare finally hits the bullseye in the Brussels Cycling Classic
After a third place in 2014 and a second place (after Tom Boonen) last year, Arnaud Démare has now succeeded in winning a thrilling Brussels Cycling Classic. The Frenchman from team FDJ beat Marko Kump (UAE Abu Dhabi) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) in the sprint on avenue Houba de Strooperlaan.
On a sun-drenched morning at Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire, the public could catch a glimpse of the packed throng of participants. A large number of household names made their appearance on the starting podium and it quickly became clear that most teams were putting forward a sprinter to go all out for race victory. Quick-Step went for Marcel Kittel, Lotto-Soudal for André Greipel and FDJ for Arnaud Démare. With Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Cocquard (Direct Energy), Bouhanni (Cofidis), Stuyven and Degenkolb (both Trek-Segafredo), many outsiders also had their eyes on a win in this 97th Brussels Cycling Classic.
After just 9 kilometres, a number of riders sprinted away from the pack and the race was on. Five racers earned themselves a lead of five minutes or so: Van Goethem (Roompot), Peyskens (WB Veranclassic), Stosz (CCC), Cordeel (Veranda’s Willems) and Kuriyanov (Gazprom) steamed through Flemish and Walloon Brabant, while the troops of Quick-Step Floors kept everything nicely under control in the pack.
At about the 80 km marker, the pleasant bicycle ride in the sunshine was over and done with and the real racing could start. Matthias Brändle (Trek-Segafredo) was the first to break away from the front of the pack, and a little later a group of nine racers, including Burghardt (Bora), Benoot and De Bie (Lotto-Soudal) and three racers from Roompot forged a lead at the head of the race. In the meantime, an unrecognisable Marcel Kittel had to give up on the Rue d’Ittre. The German later called it quits, as did Pippo Pozzato. With Bouhanni, another outsider had literally fallen by the wayside.
At breakneck speed, the leaders and the pack overcame the hills in Brabant and pounded their way towards the finish line in the shadow of the King Baudouin stadium. However, the difference between the two groups remained fairly long at around 20 seconds, with the gap only being closed in the very last few kilometres. The Roompot crew displayed a magnificent team strategy, but it was Matthias Brändle who saw his chance, speeding away from the side of the pack. However, the Austrian’s lead was short-lived, ending a kilometre and a half from the finish line, with another classic sprint as a result.
In that sprint, Arnaud Démare was clearly the strongest. The Frenchman made his way out in front, cleanly disposing of Kump and Greipel who had to come from way back and made no challenge for final victory. With Dehaes, Stuyven and De Buyst, three Belgians ended up in the top 6, but it was a Frenchman who stepped up to the winner’s podium to accept the bouquet with a broad smile on his face. So, after two respectable runner-up places over the last three years, it was finally bullseye for the blisteringly fast Arnaud Démare.
2016: Boonen defeats Démare and Bouhanni on Houba de Strooper
Tom Boonen has won the Brussels Cycling Classic for the second time. The Etixx-Quick-Step cycling team racer was selected over Marcel Kittel to be the protected sprinter and repaid the confidence placed in him in full.
Against the stunning backdrop of the Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire, the racers were presented to the public in the morning. A large number of household names made their appearance on the starting podium and it quickly became clear that most teams were putting forward a sprinter to go all out for race victory. Wholly in keeping with Brussels Cycling Classic tradition, the tempo in the first hour of the race was particularly high. Many an attack was dealt with swiftly until a group of eight racers got away from the main pack on the third climb of the day: Maxime Cam (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Alexandr Kolobnev (Gazprom – RusVelo), Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty – Groupe Gobert), Matteo Busato (Wilier Triestina-Southeast), Florent Delfosse (Wallonie-Bruxelles), Sander Cordeel & Brecht Dhaene (Verandas Willems Cycling Team) and Gianni Marchand (Cibel-Cebon) developed a lead of 2’30”.
The pack kept things under steady control until Yoann Offredo (FDJ) suddenly lit the fuse. An industrious Tiesj Benoot also rose up, causing the eight racers’ lead to melt rapidly away. A great many racers attempted to dart away from the pack but a new escape was not to be. With Brussels in sight, both Alexis Gougeard (AG2R) and Filippo Pozzato (Wilier Triestina-Southeast) tried their luck, but they too were swiftly enveloped back into the fast-approaching pack.
Inevitably, it was the gently sloping Avenue Houba de Strooperlaan that witnessed the expected sprint. The Cofidis, FDJ and Etixx-Quick-Step express trains powered to the front and launched their sprinters at the perfect moment. Tom Boonen shot away from Nikolas Maes’s wheel like greased lightning and kept both Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni at bay. A terrific win for the man who quit the sport last year and may possibly have ridden his last Brussels Cycling Classic. What’s more, Tom Boonen’s victory is a serious boost with a view to the World Championship in Qatar.