Jasper wins the sprint for second place behind solo winner Krists Neilands
Jasper Stuyven came into the 60th edition of the Grand Prix de Wallonie wearing number one as last year’s winner and was close to making it two in a row if not for Krists Neilands’ (Israel Cycling Academy) late attack with just over six kilometers remaining. Neilands successfully held off the chase from the reduced bunch to take a well-deserved and hard-earned victory while the chasing group fought out the last two podium steps.
Stuyven out-sprinted Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal) to claim second, two seconds behind Neilands.
Krist was very strong. I wanted to win, and if it was a sprint I was sure I would have won, but it’s not a bad result to be second. My teammates worked really hard today. Maybe if I had one rider more with me at the end or a good acceleration from another team, it might have stopped his breakaway and victory, but chapeau to Krists - he was very strong, always 100 meters ahead [on the climb].
Trek-Segafredo came into the race knowing they had to shoulder the most responsibility and were up for the task. Wanting a hard race the team tried to shake things up early. “We had to control the race from the beginning, which is normal after I won last year and also there were not a lot of WorldTour teams here,” explained Stuyven. “We tried to make the race active before the feed zone to make some echelons. It kind of worked out, but not as much as we were hoping.
“There was an easy bit after that and the last info we had was the break had 1 minute 40, and all of a sudden in the next moment they had seven minutes and a half! Then we had to really start chasing hard, together with Lotto, and also Riwal (Readynez Cycling Team) did a good job helping.”
Without warning, the tables had turned and Trek-Segafredo was forced into a hard and long chase. With help from a few other teams, the gap was eventually closed and the breakaway successfully tagged back in the final kilometers.
Toms Skujins helped close down the attacks in the final run-in to the finish climb – which he did – until Neilands slipped off the front. Neilands built a 23-second lead, but with the looming 2.5-kilometer uphill to the Citadel of Namur still to come, it seemed doomed.
But with little firepower remaining in the chasing bunch, and Stuyven, who was now alone and had to rely on other teams to do the work, Neilands successfully fended off the chase on the climb to take a well-deserved victory.
“In the final, we did the best we could but Krists was really strong,” continued Stuyven. “He jumped away alone and held off the pack on the final climb. Lotto had some guys to still do the chase, which they did but not fast enough, and Wanty (Gobert Cycling Team) still had some numbers there in this little group, but they didn’t work at all.
“So yeah, I needed to hope that they closed it because the group was too big to close the gap myself and still be able to win the sprint. Of course, it’s hard to be so close and finish second after the guys worked so hard the whole day; I wish I could have paid them with the win, but on the other hand, the podium is still nice.”