National Championships Round-up
Four wins, three additional podiums and a total of 14 top-10 placings is our harvest from this year's races.
Jack Bauer (New Zealand ITT), Bob Jungels (Luxembourg Road Race), Yves Lampaert (Belgium ITT) and Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic Road Race) are the Quick-Step Floors riders who over the next months will wear the national colors on their jersey, following their well-deserved victories which took the team's all-time wins tally at the National Championships to 43, a remarkable performance.
But it wasn't only about winning, as the Quick-Step Floors riders rode an aggressive race also in Belgium, Germany, France and Italy, taking the spotlight and shaping the race, thus earning countless plaudits at the end of the day. So, if you want to catch up with all of last week's action, here's our breakdown, country by country.
Reigning champion Philippe Gilbert was one of the riders to go on the attack in the final hour of the 238km-long race made hard by the winds and its 28 cobbled sectors, but his move was shut down by the peloton, and it was only with two laps to go that a group managed to extricate themselves from the bunch and establish a one minute lead as they approached the last 20 kilometers.
New Belgian National ITT Champion Yves Lampaert was there and drove the group, which splintered in the final lap, when five riders broke clear. Yves contributed the most to the chasing, but as time was running out, it became mission impossible to bring them back, and the fight for victory came down in Antwerp to a sprint between Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R), with the latter prevailing on the line.
Yves Lampaert arrived in eighth place, for his second top 10 of the week, and after a short moment he took to recapture his breath, the 26-year-old made an analysis of the final kilometers.
"From the moment Naesen went I was hoping the others will contribute to the chase, especially as some teams had the numbers, but that didn't happen, which, to be quite frank, surprised me. I missed some freshness and I'm a bit sad, but things are as they are. I can look back on what happened and be content with the fact I gave everything in this race, which was harder than on paper", said Yves Lampaert.
The 240km race starting and finishing in Saint-Omer, a small town in the Pas-de-Calais department, was hectic from kilometer zero, when several riders tried, without any luck, to get into the escape. Eventually, a move crystalised but it was kept on a leash by the peloton on the 16-lap course which included two hills: Longuenesse (600 meters, 4.8%) and Wisques (1000 meters, 6.1%).
Riding his first pro National Championships, 21-year-old Rémi Cavagna was always there, staying in the bunch when the favourites' teams upped the tempo on the climbs, trying to dislodge as many riders as possible, and even attacking with three kilometers to go before being reeled in. The reduced sprint saw Arnaud Demare (FDJ) beat Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to the title, while Remi posted an impressive 16th place, which came as further confirmation of the potential he showed last month at the Belgium Tour, where he finished runner-up.
"Soon after the start, I tried to make it into the break, but the bunch didn't agree, so I remained in the peloton and did a smart race, not wasting my energy. On the last lap, I attacked but I could take only 15 meters on the FDJ-led pack", Remi explained. "I'm not disappointed, because I tried and played my card, knowing I had no chance against the sprinters. I'm happy with my legs and condition, so I will try to build on this result for a solid second half of the season."
Two days after finishing just outside the podium in the individual time trial, Maximilian Schachmann rode to fifth place at the German Nationals Road Race, which put on the table one of the toughest courses of the week-end, revolving around a 2100m-long climb averaging 5%, that featured in the first part of the 19km-long circuit.
Basically, there was no moment of respite whatsoever, which made for a spectacular but at the same time grueling race. Marcel Kittel was up there until the final two laps, when the race took another significant U-turn, following a series of attacks. Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe) notched the win, while Max Schachmann – one of the riders to leave their mark on the race with his aggressive all-out approach – concluded in the top 5.
"Wow, what a day it was! Crazy right from the start and very hard. Nobody wanted to control it, attacks came from all over the place and I tried to follow them. At one point, I was part of a strong move, but we were brought back after 75 kilometers. Then, when the peloton disintegrated, I jumped from group to group, but it was tough against teams which had many riders on whom they could rely. At the end of the day, I am happy with my result, my form and with doing everything I could in these conditions. For sure, this year's Nationals is an experience I'll always remember and which will help me in the future", 23-year-old Max Schachmann said following Sunday's competition.
The La Serra climb, kicking out at 15%, was the star attraction of the race between Asti and Ivrea, in the Piedmont region. Gianluca Brambilla, Eros Capecchi, Fabio Sabatini and Matteo Trentin were the four Quick-Step Floors riders to take on 236km-long course, and the first to show his intentions was none other than last year's runner-up, Brambilla, who attacked inside the final 40 kilometers together with Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo).
20 seconds was the maximum gap of the duo before they got swept up by a 16-man group coming strong from behind. Once the race was reshuffled, Gianluca helped teammate Matteo Trentin stay in contention, pacing him over the penultimate climb as attacks continued to come thick and fast, but there was little to be done on the last ascent of the day, once Fabio Aru (Astana) took off with a big attack, which distanced everyone.
"I am happy with my ride, as it was nice to be there with the guys who already are in top form while I continue to improve my condition. I missed the right move for only a few meters, otherwise I'm sure I could have fought for a top 5. But I see the glass half full and I'm going into my next races with renewed confidence following the Nationals", said Brambi, 11th in Ivrea.
Quick-Step Floors' top finisher was Matteo Trentin, in ninth position, who sprinted out of a small group that arrived some 50-odd seconds later. For the 27-year-old rider hailing from Borgo Valsugana it was the best result in three appearances at the National Championships.
"The entire day was hard, but that climb in particular, with its double-digit gradient sections, was really brutal. I have to thank to Gianluca for waiting and helping me in the last part of the race. Overall, we did a good race, I'm content with my result and I can say I got a big boost of confidence after today", concluded the multiple Grand Tour stage winner.
Photo credit: © Tim De Waele