Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) won a sprint finish to claim the Paris-Tours cycling classic on Sunday.
The BMC rider edged Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) with Kasper Klostergaard-Larsen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) finishing third after the 230.5km race.
Pre-race favorites including recently crowned world champion Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), winner here in 2008 and 2009, lost out after becoming boxed in at the back of the peloton.
The 26-year-old Van Avermaet, who won a stage of the 2008 Vuelta a España, becomes the 40th Belgian to win the race, which goes back 105 years.
“The race nerves were jangling from the start. The team was running smoothly so we decided to try something after the feeding station,” said Van Avermaet.
“Everyone really worked hard for (Alessandro) Ballan, for (Taylor) Phinney and for me. We were the only team which wanted to control the race.
“I’ve come close to winning in a few classics this season but there’s only one place that counts and that’s first.
“To win a classic such as this is very special and a great step forward for
my career. It will give me a big confidence boost for next season.”
With Philippe Gilbert — who swept this year’s three Ardennes classics — and Thor Hushovd set to reinforce his team in 2012, Van Avermaet said: “We shall have a very strong team next year.
Van Avermaet and Marcato broke free from a group of 21 riders behind Arnaud Gerard (FdJ), who launched his attack 15km from the line.
The pair left Gerard at the base of the Epan climb with 7km to go.
They took advantage of disorganization among their challengers with Van Avermaet giving Marcato no chance as the Italian struggled with leg cramp in the final sprint.
- 1. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), BMC Racing Team, 5:21:43
- 2. Marco Marcato (Ita), Vacansoleil-DCM, at 0:02
- 3. Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den), Saxo Bank-Sungard, at 0:15
- 4. Ian Stannard (Gbr), Team Sky, at 0:15
- 5. Laszlo Bodrogi (Fra), Team Type 1, at 0:15