Thomas Voeckler shot clear to win Brabantse Pijl today in Overijse, Belgium. It was his first time back in the spotlight after leading last year's Tour de France for 10 days.
"When you see all the teams that were here today, with [Philippe] Gilbert and [Andy] Schleck, it was like the Tour de France," Voeckler said. "I'm not only thinking of the Tour, I'm happy with this win."
The Frenchman of second division team Europcar made his move on the Hertstraat climb. With 31 kilometres to race, after the cobbles ended he flew free.
The race started in Leuven, included 28 steep and short climbs and finished 195.7 kilometres later. The finish included five 12.7-kilometre circuits; in the third, Voeckler attacked. At 10 kilometres left and under pouring rain, he had a 1-20-minute lead. His rivals behind already gave up racing for the win and were fighting for the remaining podium spots.
Voeckler added, "When I had one minute, it was good for my morale."
The chase group of eight included Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Oscar Freire (Katusha), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol), Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda), Daniel Schorn (NetApp) and Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen).
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) took the yellow jersey from Voeckler last year on the Alpe d'Huez. Today, he crashed at 70 kilometres to race. He rejoined the race, but saved his fire for the coming Ardennes Classics.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) also crashed on his right side in a downhill bend. Before the incident, he'd been active with pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing). Gilbert won the race last year ahead of winning all three Ardennes Classics.
Adam Blythe worked for Gilbert prior to Greg Van Avermaet joining the group of eight. The group rode free on the Schavei climb with 27 kilometres to race.
Colombian Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Colombia-Coldeportes) bridged to the eight at 10 kilometres to race. He shot off for the second spot at four kilometres out, but faded near the line. Three-time winner, Freire followed Serry and sprinted ahead for second place.
A three-man escape group dominated the day, going clear at 25 kilometres in. Voeckler charged passed the last survivor, Daniel Schorn, shortly after his attack.
"My attack was not really unexpected," Voeckler said. "With the bad weather, it's better to go it alone than in the peloton."
De Brabantse Pijl 2012, 194.9km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
2. Oscar Freire (Spa) Katusha
3. Pieter Serry (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator
4. Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia-Coldeportes
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
6. Alex Howes (USA) Garmin-Barracuda
7. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
8. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank
10. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank
Spring Classics 2012: Coverage index
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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