The revived Belgian race delivered fantastic action and a thrilling finale, which saw the Dutch rider score his second victory of the year.
It takes a hard man, a strong team, a flawless tactic and a perfect bike to win a race of attrition, such as Dwars door het Hageland, and Etixx – Quick-Step had them all on Friday afternoon, when 32-year-old Niki Terpstra stormed to his second success of the season, following a perfectly timed attack in the closing meters of the 198-km long one-day event which is sure to become one of the fans' favourite from now on.
Dwars door het Hageland began under a cloudy sky in Aarschot, where some 180-odd riders riders gathered at the start for a race that included 11 hills and 20 sections of pavé and dirt roads. The opening kilometers were rather calm, but everything exploded on the first cobbled sector, where the peloton was split under the impetus of Etixx – Quick-Step and Tom Boonen, the winner of RideLondon Classic, who was joined by 17 other men, including teammates Niki Terpstra and Lukasz Wisniowski.
Once the first unpaved section was left behind, 50 riders bridged to the leaders and opened a 1:30 advantage over the second group, but the skirmishes kept on coming and other groups took off, because the race was very hard to control due to the rain and the technical course which didn't give the bunch a minute of respite. The final 60 kilometers of the race proved to be the most important, as they were jammed with cobbled hills and dirt roads which led to the peloton being blown to pieces.
Lukasz Wisniowski was one of the riders to get infiltrated in the 11-man group that pulled away and built a two-minute advantage over the pack. 2014 Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra was part of the first chasing group which eventually made the junction with less than 30 kilometers to go, just when things started to become more serious. As expected, the riders couldn't stick together on the dirt roads of Belgium and Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) tried to take advantage of that, but despite holding a 15-second advantage at one point, he was reeled in by a fantastic Wisniowski.
As soon as he was caught, Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) launched a strong attack and looked to have the win in the bag, but once again the Polish rider of Etixx – Quick-Step came to the fore and controlled the margin of the lone leader, before Niki Terpstra took things into his own hands. In the technical last kilometer of the race which was set to finish on a short and punchy cobbled climb leading to the Diest Citadel, Wallays began to struggle and lose ground just as Niki was upping the pace. A powerful acceleration of the three-time Dutch champion saw him make the catch with 200 meters to go and leave everyone else behind, soloing to the win, his second of the year following the one in Le Samyn.
"It was a pretty tough race, due to the harsh weather conditions. We had some showers in the first two hours and that made for some nervous racing on the cobblestones. The peloton was split pretty early and I had to fight in order to make it to the front group, where Lukasz worked hard and did a great job in keeping a high tempo", said Niki, who brought Etixx – Quick-Step its 41st success since the start of the season. "Wallays was strong and it wasn't easy to reel him in, but I gave everything, rode really fast on that last climb and took this beautiful victory, my second one of the season, and one which comes after that injury I had at the start of the summer. I'm very happy, because it's always nice when you cross the finish line first, as this gives you more confidence for your next races."
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