Tour de Wallonie #1: Ben O’Connor back to racing with stage breakaway

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Romain Cardis (Direct-Energie) won the opening stage of the Tour de Wallonie, winning the mass sprint and also taking the overall race leaders jersey too. The Frenchman got the better of Michael Van Staeyen (Cofidis) and Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen) at the line.

The Tour de Wallonie got underway with a constantly rolling and windy 200km stage today. Ben O’Connor was keen to get things going from the gun and managed to make the early break of the day with 6 other riders. After being out of action since the Giro d’Italia, O’Connor impressed with his strong ride out front, driving the break to a 6-minute lead over the peloton.

The peloton had the move under control though as Lotto-Soudal and Quickstep-Floors were intent on bringing the race back together for a bunch sprint. A 4km cobble sector, that had to be completed twice in the final 50km, kept things interesting. As the break was caught just through the final passage of the cobbled road, and despite a few late attacks, a grouped peloton would contest for the stage win in Les Bons Villers.

For the finale, our African Team was looking to Ryan Gibbons for a result but it was the French teams of Direct Energie and Cofidis that had the upper hand. Our South African wasn’t able to challenge for a top result today after having the door closed on him in the final stretch, and came home with a 16th place in the end.

Gino Van Oudenhove – Sport Director
It was a hard stage with a lot of wind and 2 cobble stretches of 4km in the final. However, it was a pretty okay day for us with Ben O’Connor in a break taking up to 6 minutes, only to be caught with 12km to go. Meanwhile, Quickstep split the field after 55km in the side wind, but the entire team made the first cut of 50 riders. Also, on the cobbles we managed to keep the team together. It was fireworks with attacks in the final, but it came together with 3km to go. At that point we should have had some more guys to assist Ryan Gibbons, but at the most hectic it was only Nic Dougall who was able to place Ryan with 1km to go. Ryan was in 8th position at that time, but got blocked with 500m to go where the barriers narrowed the road. No top result, but definitely in the race with the guys. So we are looking forward to the coming stages with some hills and tougher finals.