Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung enjoyed its second victory of the day after Gerald Ciolek won the final stage of Three Days of West Flanders. Earlier, Jay Thomson won the South African National Road Championships while Louis Meintjes won the under 23 category. Together with Ciolek’s win, it tops of a highly successful start to the season for Africa’s first Professional Continental team.
Shortly after the stage got underway today, riders started attacking in order to be represented in the day’s move. Eventually six riders got away but were never given a lead of more than 3 minutes. Omega Pharma-Quick Step took control of the chase for Mark Cavendish and race leader Kristof Vandewalle. They eventually caught the break with 50 kilometres to go. This forced a number of splits in the group until three riders who got a 40 second gap in the closing kilometres but were eventually reeled in to ensure a sprint.
“I am very tired now but feel great at the same time,” Ciolek said after the win. “The race started really fast. There wasn’t much wind but it’s a Belgian race so you always have to be awake and stay alert and concentrate. At one point there was a small breakaway close to the finish but the team worked quite well together to bring it back.
“There were narrow roads and it was quite technical towards the finish which suits me perfectly. I had the perfect leadout from Ignatas [Konovalovas] then my last guy was Andreas [Stauff] and he just lead me out to 250m to go and I just had to finish the job. Cycling is amazing. One day you have all the bad luck and then the next day you are on the podium.”
Ciolek was forced to miss Le Samyn earlier in the week after suffering from a cold. A decision was made the day before Three Days of West Flanders for him to start the Belgian race after he had recovered sufficiently. He was frustrated during yesterday’s first road stage after a crash with 3 kilometres to go ended his chance to of contesting the bunch sprint.
Directeur Sportif, Jens Zemke, said, “It was all or nothing for us today, much like yesterday. Yesterday was nothing, today was all. There was such great team work today. The plan for the day was to lead Gerald out and after 100km, the bunch split. We had 4 guys in the front split and they just looked after him. In the final leadout they brought him into a great position and he won the sprint clearly with a few metres.”
Today’s victories follows an already successful start to the season for Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung after it won the overall team prize in the Le Tour de Langkawi yesterday where Sergio Pardilla also finished third overall. The team will now make its debut in Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday, where it will make history as the first African outfit to start a WorldTour event.