(Photo credit: Eric Van Heuverswijn - www.at-evh.be)
Cillian Kelly reports,
Niko Eeckhout has taken the first win of the season for the An Post-Sean Kelly team at the G.P. Wanzele in Belgium.
The team had double cause for celebration as Gediminas Bagdonas made it a one-two, finishing just behind Eeckhout in second place.
41 year old Eeckhout proved he still has what it takes after himself and Bagdonas powered away from a four-man group in very poor weather conditions.
The race usually consists of 17 laps of a 10km circuit, but the wet and windy weather conditions were such that the organisers decided to reduce the race by two laps.
Eeckhout and Bagdonas were joined by all four An Post Sean Kelly teamamates, including Irish riders Conor McConvey and Ronan McLaughlin, in a decisive 24 man breakaway midway through the revised 150 kilometre route. They continued to attack with 45 kilometres to go with their efforts whittling the lead group down to just four riders.
It became an interesting two on two battle as the remainder of the four man lead group consisted of Laurens de Vreese and Pieter Jacobs, both of the Topsport Vlaanderen team.
But the wiley Eeckhout was not going to be out foxed by the two young Belgians, both over 15 years his junior.
He worked well with Bagdonas to distance the Belgian duo in the closing stages and the An Post Sean Kelly riders were a comfortable 2'48" up when they reached the finish where Eeckhout took the honours.
McConvey and McLaughlin were also strong at the finish after working hard for the team. McConvey finished 23rd while McLaughlin proved his consistency once again by placing 27th.
Having finished third here in 2005 and second in 1996, Eeckhout will be delighted to finally make it to the top step of the podium at this East Flandrian race.
The former Belgian champion will look to capitalise on his good form further at the Gent-Ieper race this coming Saturday, a race which he won, amazingly, all the way back in 1992.
Team manager Kurt Bogaerts was delighted to get the team’s first win under their belt after an unlucky last couple of races.
“We were didn’t have much luck last week with crashes and punctures and Niko was unfortunate not to win the final stage of the Driedaagse van-Vlaandren when he hit a bump in the sprint, so it’s great to get the first win of the season. The team rode well today in cold conditions so I’m delighted for them all,” said Bogaerts.
Bogaerts has yet to name his teams for the weekend’s races in Kattekoers and the Omloop van het Waasland, however Irish rider Sam Bennett will definitely not play any part as he is still to fully recover from flu.
GP Wanzele, 129 kilometres
1. Niko Eeckhout (Bel) An Post Sean Kelly 3:01:16
2. Gediminas Bagdonas (Lit) An Post Sean Kelly - same time
3. Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen at 2'48"
23. Conor McConvey (An Post Sean Kelly)
27. Ronan McLaughlin (An Post Sean Kelly)