Christophe Laporte was in an attacking mood in the last 30 km of the European Championship road race, and he finally made it stick with a long-range move 12 km from the finish, leaving behind an elite selection he’d had a lead role in creating. The gap went from 15 seconds back down to below ten in the last few kilometres, and with Laporte’s lead under threat, Wout van Aert and Olav Kooij charged up the Col du Vam behind him. Already sprinting hard, Van Aert tagged his teammate 150 metres from the line, but Laporte was not yet done. He looked across and kicked again, taking advantage of the sweeping bend and the doubt in his teammates’ minds to surge forward to victory.
Van Aert took second and Kooij third to seal a Jumbo-Visma podium sweep – another one – at the end of a thrilling and aggressive race on the manmade Vamberg/Col du Vam.
- The French team had set about swatting at the dominance of Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands with repeated attacks from 60 km to go, Anthony Turgis and Florian Sénéchal especially active, with Italy also keen to spoil the party for the top favourites. After a softening move by Filippo Ganna with 28 km to go, there was a lull in the elite selection that led the race, and it was here that Christophe Laporte began to make his impact.
- Laporte was joined by Olav Kooij without much delay, just as a crash in the hesitant chase group shattered the hopes of many, including the aggressive Italians and the young British team. With 23 km to go there were ten riders at the head of the race, Laporte and Kooij joined by national teammates Sandy Dujardin (France) and Mike Teunissen (Netherlands), along with Van Aert and Arnaud De Lie (Belgium), Mads Pedersen and Andreas Kron (Denmark), John Degenkolb (Germany) and Rasmus Tiller (Norway).
- It was a very strong group, and Laporte perhaps didn’t favour his ability in the sprint to the line – he said later of his decision-making: “It was more by heart because it is hard to predict a race like this, and I didn’t think so much. I just fought.” Shortly after the penultimate passage of the finish line, he put the group to the test and forced a brief split halfway down, before one last, more powerful attack at the bottom of the descent. With the group only just knotted back together, no one responded and Laporte went solo with 12 km to go.
- The group hesitated enough to let his gap out over 10 seconds, and though Kron was tempted to try and bridge, the group was mostly happy to ride through and hold the Frenchman between 10 and 15 seconds. Never mind their pre-race favourite status, the presence of Jumbo-Visma teammates Van Aert and Kooij seemed at least to seed doubt in the pressure behind Laporte, but the desire for glory certainly didn’t appear in any shortage on the final climb to the finish line. They just didn’t have enough gas to pass Laporte.
- There was a lot at play in the chase group. If you squinted in the aftermath of Laporte’s attack, you might just about be taken back to a Spring Classic, watching as Jumbo-Visma riders Van Aert and Kooij looked around at their trade team rivals to take responsibility as their teammate committed to his solo charge. By the same token, there were perhaps slightly different motivations within the various national teams – for instance, Mike Teunissen is a rider more like Laporte who might like a long solo flier as opposed to playing lead-out man for his young compatriot. And then there’s the duo of Van Aert and De Lie, and though it looked like their communication worked out pretty well in the end as the younger man led his compatriot up to the line, who knows what conflicting desires infected their drive in that last lap. The only nation with multiples and a clear leader was France, and that man also had friends and teammates in opposing jerseys. That’s a formula for victory if I’ve ever heard one.
Quote of the day
Laporte made the race his own in the face of serious competition, some of them riders he knows very well.
“”It’s hard to believe. It was a crazy final. I felt good and I thought, ‘Ok, if I go to the sprint with guys like De Lie and Van Aert it will be hard to win. I tried and it worked.”Laporte said post-race, still catching his breath
No arguments: it was a great race with a brilliant finale.
Somehow, these dominant teams – like the SD Worx riders during Saturday’s elite women’s race – keep creating exciting races despite their supremacy over, well, everyone else. But it’s nice that we get to hear the Marseillaise rather than whatever anthem Jumbo-Visma might come up with as the relative underdog French team beats Belgium and the Netherlands.
Wout van Aert will be delighted for his teammate and loyal domestique, but it is yet another silver medal for the Belgian.
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