Etixx – Quick-Step had another successful season in 2016, with 56 road wins alongside 69 other podium places. Over the next week we will look back on the 10 biggest moments for the team, and today the time has come to talk of the 56th Brabantse Pijl.
The spring of 2016 was the best of Petr Vakoč since the young Czech rider turned pro, in 2014. Early in the season, he became the first rider in history to win Classic Sud-Ardèche and La Drôme Classic in the same year, each of these victories scored on French turf coming after an impetuous display, which left his opponents with nothing else to do than fight for the other podium places.
February's victories were followed by two strong top 10 placings, in Strade Bianche and the penultimate stage of the Volta a Catalunya, which signaled that Petr was on the right road ahead of his first goal of the season, Brabantse Pijl, the 203-km long race between Leuven and Overijse, which this year included more than 20 short, punchy and leg-sapping climbs, the last of these hurdles featuring right at the finish and providing the backdrop for a much-awaited fight between the favourites.
Despite several riders trying their luck inside the final 100 kilometers, it all came back together for the closing 20 kilometers, when Julian Alaphilippe and Tim Wellens took off, putting pressure on the peloton by opening a 15-second advantage. Before the foot of the last climb, they were reeled in, but in the blink of an eye Julian went again, this time taking four men with him, including teammate Petr Vakoč.
An incredible Julian moved to the front and pushed a furious pace, making sure the quintet will escape from the clutches of the bunch and at the same time setting the Czech champion for the tough finale of the Belgian classic. Once the Frenchman stepped aside, it was Petr's turn to take center stage, and the 23-year-old powered away with one kilometer to go, opening a gap which proved to be insurmountable and which brought him a solo win and plenty of time to celebrate this great moment of his career.
"That was a really amazing day and I'll forever be grateful to the team for their incredible work and for having faith in me. The guys supported me, rode for me and I am happy I could repay them with a victory", said Petr, the first Cezh rider to win Brabantse Pijl. "Julian did a fantastic job in the final kilometers, and while he was putting the hammer down at the front, I was keeping an eye on the other riders and noticed they were fading, so I went full on the ascent, also because I wanted to get some seconds in hand and make sure the peloton will not come back. These steep climbs suit me well and I gave it all to make the gap and go all the way to the line. Looking back, I can say it's probably the biggest success of my career, one that makes me very proud."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele