Limburg native Thijssen victor in anniversary edition
Gerben Thijssen has won the 75th edition of the Ronde van Limburg. The Limburg native showed himself to be the fastest in the sprint on the Eeuwfeestwal in Tongeren finishing ahead of the Australian Caleb Ewan and the Pole Stanisław Aniołkowski. Belgian champion Tim Merlier miscalculated the final bend and crossed the line in fourth place.
The peloton of 121 riders set off from Hasselt at 12:15 in bright sunlight. Soon after the start, 7 riders were able to engineer the early break: the Belgians Taminiaux (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Desal (Bingoal WB) and Bomboi (TDT-Unibet) joined forces with the Dutchmen Ronhaar (Baloise Trek Lions), Weulink (ABLOC CT), Dissel (BEAT Cycling Club) and Van der Tuuk (Metec - SOLARWATT p/b Mantel).
By the first of 4 passages along the finish, 117 km from the end of the race, their lead had already grown to almost 4 minutes. At that time, the tempo in the peloton was mainly being set by the men of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty, in service of their leader Gerben Thijssen. The teammates of Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny) also did their bit in the chase. With good result; by the second passage in Tongeren, the gap was down to only 2.5 minutes.
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From that point onwards, things were never still in the peloton. With 63 km to go, counter-attacks by the duo Fabio Christen (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team) and Martijn Budding (TDT-Unibet), on the one hand, and by Ludovic Robeet (Bingoal WB) on the other, meant that, by the second passage on the cobblestones of Manshoven, the back door of the peloton stood wide open. A round later, the finale broke wide open on the same stretch of cobblestones. While Bram Dissel was shaking the tree at the front, Timo Kielich threw his cards onto the table in the peloton. Stan Van Tricht (Soudal Quick-Step) was able to join forces with him, but the two could not get away.
With 20 km to go to the finish, the adventure of the 7 frontrunners finally came to an end. Hartthijs de Vries (TDT-Unibet) and Luca Van Boven (Bingoal WB) tried to avoid an inevitable sprint finish with a late attack, but they got no space from the peloton. Thus, the fans at the finish could get ready for the expected battle between Merlier, Thijssen and Ewan. However, the latter suffered equipment failure 7 km from the finish line. The Australian had to change bikes twice, but still managed to regain his place in the peloton in time.
The depleted peloton rode into the final kilometre at high speed. Tim Merlier began the sprint from far out, but didn't judge the last corner very well. The Belgian champion had to get back on line and saw Gerben Thijssen and Caleb Ewan come along. It was the former who took the win, ahead of Ewan and Poland’s Stanislaw Aniolkowski (Human Powered Health). A disappointed Merlier eventually had to settle for fourth place.