Astana's Tomas Vaitkus showing solid form heading into Tour of Flanders
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Astana's Tomas Vaitkus showing solid form heading into Tour of Flanders

by Jered Gruber at 6:32 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Lithuanian hardman finishes fourth in Stage 2 after extremely long sprint

Tomas Vaitkus has long been a rider who has promised a big result in the cobbled classics of the springtime, but up until this point, his successes have been on a close, but not quite to the level of the sport's biggest names. He was second at the Scheldeprijs in 2005, a Giro stage win in 2006, sixth at the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2007, first at the Ronde van het Groene Hart in 2008, but then things went quiet over the past two seasons.

2011 has seen Vaitkus return to the level that made him one of the most promising young riders in the world a little under a decade ago. The big Lithuanian has been improving day by day this spring, highlighted by a tenth place stage finish in the final day of Paris-Nice - a stage made for climbers and Grand Tour riders, not Classics specialists. With his excellent fourth place finish in Wednesday's second stage of the Three Days of De Panne, it's clear that the 2002 U23 World Time Trial Champion will be a rider to watch over the next two critical weekends.

Fourth place in a bunch sprint in De Panne doesn't seem like that impressive of a result, but considering the massive distance from the line where Vaitkus started the sprint, his fourth place was a demonstration of pure power.

Afterwards, Astana director, Laurenzo Lapage was pleased with both Vaitkus's and his team's ride on the day.

"They have worked well today. I saw that Vaitkus finished the hardest climb of the day in the top five, so I knew he had good legs today. I asked everyone to work to help Tomas to the best position in the final sprint."

Vaitkus was certainly well placed heading into the sprint, but unfortunately, he was left on the front far too early to have any hope at victory. It's a problem that Lapage admits to and concedes that Vaitkus was lacking a leadout.

"Maybe we were missing a last man to launch his sprint. I think if one of his teammates had led him out, it would have been very hard to beat him today, given the condition he currently he has. He had all the chances of winning."

The 2008 Lithuanian National Champion was happy with his effort and what it means in relation to his progress, not only in terms of his fitness, but his confidence as well.

"I think it was my mistake. I started the sprint too early. I still need to practice. During the last three years, I played a role as a teammate, so I have to get used to sprinting again. I get more and more confidence in myself. I feel strong, and I feel that I am returning to my best level."

Lapage is content with his team's effort and feels confident that the the baby blue and yellow squad can be a factor this weekend through the efforts of Vaitkus and his teammate, Maxim Iglinskiy.

"It really gives us confidence a few days before the Tour of Flanders. If confirms that Tomas is a rider who can help and maybe get a result with Maxim Iglinskiy."

Vaitkus's solid performance at the Three Days of De Panne so far has left him in an excellent position to pursue a high result in Thursday's finale - a double day with a short morning stage and the race deciding time trial. Vaitkus will start the day eight seconds behind the race leader, Lieuwe Westra. If the former U23 World TT Champion can pull off a good time trial, a top overall finish would be very much in the cards.


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