Merlier wins 73rd Ronde van Limburg
Brent Van Moer began his adventure in the early escape, some 60 km from the finish. In the finale, his companions are left behind one by one. Even those who came back from behind were driven off by Van Moer on the final lap on the climbs and cobblestone stretches. But after a solo over 12 km, it all went wrong in the last kilometre. Merlier was the fastest of the pack.
After a year’s absence —for well-known reasons — the Ronde van Limburg made its return. At 1:30 p.m., Alderman for sport Habib El Ouakili signalled the start of the race at Quartier Bleu and the Blauwe Boulevard in provincial capital Hasselt. The 133 riders started on a journey of about 200 km with 14 climbs and 9 km of cobblestone stretches along the way.
The race starts quietly. From Hasselt, the peloton heads towards Sint-Truiden, the birthplace of the Ronde van Limburg. After a first passage in Borgloon, it heads towards Bilzen and the double passage through land commandery Alden Biesen. It is there that Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal), Burger (BEAT Cycling) and Beullens (Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise) ride away on the first climb of the Keiberg.
The lead of the three quickly doubles and increases to a maximum of 2’50”. On the second passage over the finish line, the lead of the frontrunners slowly but surely begins to recede. At 55 km from the finish line, the gap is barely a minute. In the peloton, the second passage on the cobblestone stretches in Manshoven and Op de Kriezel is raced flat-out. For Beullens, it is too fast. He is dropped and is quickly caught by the chasing peloton.
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In the run-up to the last lap, it is Backaert (B&B Hotels P/B KTM), Colman (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Hesters (BEAT Cycling) who can make the crossing, while Burger must let the leading group go on the Kolmontberg just before the start of the final lap.
On the last climb of the Grootloonberg, Van Moer suddenly accelerates making it too fast for Colman. Only Hesters and Backaert can follow Van Moer, but not for much longer. Hesters is dropped on the Burchtheuvel. This leaves Van Moer, who has been on the attack throughout the race, only with the company of Backaert. Their lead on the peloton grows and once more it is soon over one minute.
At the front, Van Moer is clearly the strongest. On the cobblestone stretch, in Manshoven, he makes his ultimate acceleration and leaves Backaert behind. The 23-year-old from Beveren goes off solo in search of victory and holds off the peloton. The lead hovers around 50 seconds. On the ‘Romeinse Kassei’ (Roman road) that leads directly to Tongeren, the wind blows diagonally from behind.
Van Moer makes it hugely exciting. Until the last kilometre the lonely leader holds on, but then things go wrong. The leader takes the wrong road and the peloton sprints for the victory. Merlier is ultimately the fastest of the pack. He wins in front of McLay (Team Arkéa-Samic) and Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal).