Francesco Chicchi flies away to Nokere Koerse victory
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Francesco Chicchi flies away to Nokere Koerse victory

by Ben Atkins at 12:06 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Race Reports and Results
Italian Omega Pharma-Quick Step sprinter the fastest man left in Flemish semi-classic after final kilometre crash

francesco chicchiFrancesco Chicchi continued the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team’s love affair with the Nokere Koerse, with a virtually uncontested sprint victory over a peloton that was decimated by a final kilometre crash. The Italian waited for the final 150 metres, as the steadily climbing cobbled finishing straight of the Nokereberg curved around its final corner, before launching his sprint. With very few of the first division fastmen left in what was left of the peloton, Chicchi immediately opened up an enormous gap and was able to celebrate properly as he hit the finish line alone to take his fourth victory of the year.

More than four lengths behind Chicchi, a frustrated Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM) took his fourth second place of the season so far, just ahead of 23-year-old Boy van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare).

"We had riders in the breakaway — Kwiatkowski and then Trentin — all day long," said Chicchi after the race. "We didn't have to work a lot, only in the finale to win. This is my first victory in Nokere. I am really happy, and hope for another big race on Friday in the Handzame Classic.

"The team was perfect," he continued. "They took the lead of the operations at 4km from the finish when the group was all together and did a great job. Iljo Keisse and Andy Fenn were perfect in the final 3km, and then Trentin gave a great leadout in the final kilometre.

"I started pulling at 500 metres," Chicchi added. "There was a corner at 300 metres, so I started before the corner and won 'easy' for once."

A big break gets away but doesn’t get far

The 1.1-ranked 195.9km race was to climb the cobbled Nokereberg a total of ten times; after a long starting loop - which took in two ascents of the Nokereberg, as well as the Hotond, the Kluisberg and the Tiegemberg - the race would finish with eight laps of a 14.8km finishing circuit.

Despite finishing on a cobbled climb, the Nokereberg - at an average of just 5.7% - was gentle enough for the race to be dominated by sprinters.

A group of 13 riders escaped early in the race, made up of: Kenny Dehaes (Lotto-Belisol), Stefan van Dijk and Arnoud van Groen (both Verandas), Adam Blythe (BMC Racing), Jakob Rathe (Garmin-Barracuda), Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Mickaël Delage (FDJ-BigMat), Steven Van Vooren (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Boris Dron (Wallonie Bruxelles-Crédit Agricole), Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis), Rony Martias (Saur-Sojasun), Bert De Backer (Project 1t4i), and Pieter Ghyllebert (An Post-Sean Kelly). After 88km they were just over a minute clear of the peloton, which was being led by Rabobank on behalf of sprinters Theo Bos and Graeme Brown.

Van Vooren crashed on the fourth ascent of the Nokereberg as his steerer tube snapped on the cobbled surface. Dehaes was unable to avoid the falling Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator rider, who was at the head of the line at the time, but was quickly back on his bike and rejoined the others.

Van Vooren was not seriously hurt, but had to wait for a spare bike and was picked up by the peloton, which was now led by Landbouwkrediet and Champion System as well as Rabobank.

The gap to the leaders remained largely static at just over a minute for most of the the mid-part of the race, and with 50km to go it was 1’22”. It soon began to come down though, dropping below a minute at kilometre 47 as Vacansoleil-DCM and Katusha took control of the peloton.

The pace of the Vacansoleil-DCM team at the front on the climb detached a ten-man group from the front as it crested the top of the Nokereberg with three laps to go. Most of the Dutch team was present, and was very reluctant to allow the rest of the peloton to rejoin on the flat roads that followed.

Vacansoleil-DCM closes it down too soon and invites counterattacks

The broken peloton gradually began to reform however, and, as it all came together, the Vacansoleil-DCM train at the front made contact with the twelve-man led group. With 40km still to go, this may have been a little early to pull the break back and, sure enough, as the peloton began to relax and spread across the road, the attacks began again.

With 38km to go Andy Cappelle ( Willems) dragged a four-man group clear, but it was only to last a few kilometres.  Through the streets of Kruishoutem with 33km to go, a group of fourteen forced itself clear; Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post-Sean Kelly) got away on his own, but was hunted down by the others as they approached Nokere to start the penultimate lap; the group was ten seconds clear of the peloton as they crossed the line

With Bagdonas were An Post-Sean Kelly teammate Nico Eeckhout,  Kwiatkowski again, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Matteo Trentin, Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Belisol), Tom Leezer (Rabobank), Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent.jpbs-Verandas Willems), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha), Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Olivier Pardini (Colba-Superano Ham), Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches), Marcello Pavarin (Vacansoleil-DCM), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat) and Jean-Lou Paiani (Saur-Sojasun).

FDJ-BigMat seemed to think that it had missed the move and so the French team took control of the chase, along with UnitedHealthcare, but the gap was growing as the riders ahead were all working hard together.

With 25km to go, the gap had grown to 24 seconds, but it shrank rapidly as co-operation briefly evaporated in the front group. The peloton was not anxious to provoke another attack however, and Garmin-Barracuda held them at a few seconds for several kilometres.

Inside the final 20km Schumacher had a brief attempt to escape, but he was pulled back by the rest of the group, which was, in turn, enveloped by the peloton.

All together for a sprint but the teams are jostling for control

Garmin-Barracuda was in full control now, as the race approached Nokere to take the bell. Behind the American team was Rabobank, which was also keen for the race to come down to a sprint.

Kwiatkowski was at it again, as he strung out the peloton on the cobbled climb to the finish line, but Rabobank was marking the Polish rider and he was not able to get clear. There were now riders representing a number of teams on the front of the peloton, led by cyclocross specialist Steve Chainel (FDJ-BigMat), as most were now aiming for a sprint finish.

With 10km to go however, Dennis Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) forced himself a few seconds clear; Katusha and Omega Pharma-Quick Step quickly came forward and he was soon back in the fold.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step was now lined up on the front, with both Fenn and Francseco Chicchi tucked in; the attempted attacks continued however, but the Belgian team calmly closed down any moves, which were tough to make stick on the flat roads.

With 4km to go Katusha began to wind up the pace, although the Russian team lost Alexey Tsatevitch as he touched a wheel and crashed on the outside of a bend. Omega Pharma-Quick Step was not about to let another team dictate the race though, and surged forward as the race entered the final three kilometres.

Andy Fenn led the peloton into the final kilometre, with Garmin-Barracuda, Rabobank and Katusha trying to muscle past. A crash near the front on the narrow road reduced the bunch to less than thirty riders, with much fancied World under-23 champion Arnaud Démare (FDJ-BigMat) among those to come down, but the pace up front continued unabated.

The Katusha team led onto the final climb, but as he reached the last corner with 150 metres to go, Chicchi jumped away and nobody was able to follow him. The Italian crossed the line, punching the air, several lengths clear of a frustrated Boeckmans, with van Poppel just behind him.

Result Nokere Koerse
1. Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
2. Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
3. Boy van Poppel (Ned) UnitedHealthcare Procycling
4. André Schulze (Ger) Team NetApp
5. Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin-Barracuda
6. Giorgio Brambilla (Ita) Leopard Trek
7. Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator
8. Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Katusha Team
9. Alexander Porsev (Rus) Katusha Team
10. Baptiste Plaenckaert (Bel) Landbouwkrediet


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