I was only able to catch the last 15 kilometers of todayâ€™s Brabantse Pijl, but I was impressed by what I saw. The changes to the course created an exciting finale, thanks largely to a finishing circuit containing 3 difficult climbs, including a steep drag to the finish.
Belgium held itâ€™s breath as the 3-man all-Belgian breakaway fought to give the home crowd itâ€™s first Belgian victor of an important Belgian race this season, while the select chase group with Phillippe Gilbert, Bjorn Leukemans, Thomas Voeckler , and Paul Martens (the latter two being French and Dutch, respectively) crept ever closer.
But the gap help, and as the leaders traded punches up the final ascent, it was easy to feel the pain in their legs. They seemed to beg one another to attack, thereby ending their shared misery sooner.
Hereâ€™s what I noticed:
1. Itâ€™s hard to believe Team Radio Shack has won a (semi-) classic and Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto have not. Credit Sebastien Rosseler with what is looking to be the finest season of his career following a stage win in the Volta Algarve, a good finish in Roubaix, and now a win in Brabant. Along with Chris Horner and Tiago Machado, Rosseler and Radio Shack can head to Amstel and the Ardennes confident in their chances to take an even more impressive victory.
2. As for Thomas De Gendt, his 2nd-place finish continues the impressive performance of Topsport Vlaanderen this spring. The Belgian Continental squad now has 2nd-place finishes in both Ghent-Wevelgem and the Brabantse Pijlâ€”thatâ€™s more than several Pro Tour teams can boast.
3. On the flipside, Jurgen Vandewalleâ€™s 3rd-place finish continues Quick Stepâ€™s string of â€œclose, but no cigarâ€ finishes in major racesâ€”but not in a good way. The team now heads to Amstel and the Ardennes with no viable candidates for victoriesâ€”unless Sylvain Chavanel and Carlos Barredo can turn todayâ€™s â€œtrainingâ€ into some top-level fitness.
4. Phillippe Gilbert seems right where he needs to be for the next 10 days. He cannot be blamed for assuming the dayâ€™s first breakaway would be caught and he rode aggressively to do what he could to take the win. It was the perfect warm-up for Amstel and the Ardennes, where heâ€™ll certainly be a top-favorite. His teammate, Greg Van Avermaet, is riding well too; should Gilbert prove heavily-marked, he might get a chance to try for the win for himself this Sunday.
5. Thomas Voeckler deserves consideration Sunday as well following a solid performance in Brabant. His BBox team has been one of the biggest surprises of the classics thus far, playing a role in just about every race itâ€™s entered.
6. As suspected, Bjorn Leukemans played an important role in todayâ€™s race, coming a bit short of the win I predicted. Leukemans is well-suited to the Amstel Gold Race; with teammates like Marco Mancato and Johnny Hoogerland riding well, the squad could score itâ€™s biggest win to dateâ€”and on home turf no less.
7. And speaking of home turf, Rabobank appears set for Sundayâ€™s Amstel Gold Race with both Oscar Freire and Nick Nuyens ready to try for the win. Freire seems particularly fast right now following his week at Pais Vasco. If Rabobank can bring the race together for the finale Sunday, look for Freire to grab the victory.
8. Karsten Kroon looked comfortable today, riding to a respectable 15th-place finish. Kroonâ€™s likely to be BMCâ€™s sole leader for Sunday in Hollandâ€”could he do what his more-heralded teammates could not?
9. And finally, give credit to Garminâ€™s Micheal Kreder for a terrific result (21st)â€”this kidâ€™s clearly a talent for the future!
Overall, it was a terrific race, and perfect warm-up for Amstel, Fleche, and Liege. As word spreads, look for the start list to grow more impressive as well.
Thatâ€™s it for meâ€”share your comments and feedback below!