Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) won the final stage of the Tour de Wallonie, sprinting to the stage victory ahead of Alvaro Hodeg (Quickstep) and our South African from Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Ryan Gibbons.
The final stage of the Tour de Wallonie looked on paper to be one for the sprinters, but with only 3 seconds separating 1st and 2nd on GC, it was expected that the main contenders would be attacking for the bonus seconds during the 187km stage between Huy and Waremme.
As predicted, Tim Wellens (Lottos-Soudal) certainly was on a mission to gain bonus seconds over Quinten Hermans (Telenet-Fidea) and he was in all out attack mode for the opening 80km of the stage, making it a very fast and difficult stage. Our African Team had interests in the stage win and so we had to keep close tabs on the front of the race, as the peloton continually split and regrouped.
Our team did well to ride up at the head of the race and once Wellens picked up 3 bonus seconds at the first sprint, things calmed down slightly. 15 riders then jumped clear of the bunch and rode out to a 3’00” lead. With Wellens and Hermans now equal on time, both their teams assumed control of the pace making to ensure the break was eventually caught.
The catch took place with 15km to go and then our African Team looked to put its plan into action. Nic Dlamini followed a late attack and Mekseb Debesay also launched a counter move behind a Quickstep rider that got away. It was all in order to set the sprint up for Gibbons though, and in the end, a sprint it would be.
Gibbons had Nic Dougall for support in the final kilometers of the stage as the duo battled the sprint trains of Groupama, Katusha and Quickstep. With 1km to go though, our pair was separated in the fight for position, leaving Gibbons some way back.
Our South African was able to find some space after the final corner though and produced a strong extended sprint, coming around a number of riders to take a good 3rd place on the line. In the overall it was Wellens who triumphed with our best placing going to Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier in 11th.
Ryan Gibbons – Rider
It was a really tough day today. With Wellens losing the jersey yesterday and only seconds separating the GC, it was always going to be an aggressive day of racing. The first 2hrs was absolutely flat out and with it being such an undulating area on typical Belgian roads, it was impossible to not be fully committed. Once a break was established it settled down a bit and our team did a really good job keeping me in front. Once we got to the local lap and we caught the break, a few late moves went and we were always represented which took a lot of pressure off us. Going into the last 2km Nic Dougall was looking after me but we lost each other with about 1km to go. I came around the final corner with 500m to go in about 15th position so just hit out when I got some space. I felt really good and feel as though I was the quickest finisher but just got my timing wrong. Happy to pick up a podium for the team and to end the week on a positive note.