IZRAM, Turkey (VN) – Iljo Keisse (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) held off a hard-chasing peloton in the last meters of today’s stage of the Tour of Turkey for the win, after an exhilarating last few kilometers.
Keisse attacked his breakaway with about 6km to go, and held a 40-second lead going into the final turn. But just when it looked liked Keisse was going to have some good luck – after a difficult last few years – the bottom fell out from underneath him again.
This time, literally. Sweeping through the tight right-hander, within sight of the finish line, his front wheel slipped on a slick road surface. The Belgian six-day track star skittered across the asphalt, his chances of winning out of the breakaway disappearing quickly.
The peloton was breathing down his neck, but he calmly remounted his bike only to discover to his dismay that he’d lost his chain. He methodically remounted the chain around the crank, glanced up the road and still couldn’t see the pack, and put down perhaps the fastest standing start to a kilometer of his career.
“My crash gave me a 20-second chance to recover,” he joked. “I tried to stay calm and I went as hard as I could in the final kilometer. My track experience helped me and I think I won by just a few meters.”
German sprint ace Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) looked to have the win in the bag, but Keisse hung on for the morale-boosting road victory, while Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) finished third.
Bulgaria’s Ivailo Gabrovski (Konya Torku) remains the race leader going into tomorrow’s final stage.
The win couldn’t have been more welcome for the Belgian, after years of hard luck and a controversial doping case that seemed to drag on forever. Keisse’s long-running doping scandal went back and forth between the Belgian cycling federation, the UCI, WADA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and eventually a Belgian court of appeals.
He eventually lost and served a two-year doping ban after testing positive during a six-day event in Ghent dating back to 2008. Keisse was initially cleared, with a ruling that said it was unintentional doping due to contaminated dietary supplement, and vows he never did anything wrong. He remained banned in Belgium until January this year.
Keisse also was close to several riders who suffered tragic ends, including troubled star Frank Vandenbroucke, Isaac Galvez who died in a track racing accident a few years ago, and Wouter Weylandt who died while racing last year.
“What does this mean to me?” he said. “I think it’s the end of a very bad part of my life. Let’s say it like that.”
The victory is the first on the road for Keisse, who is one of today’s best six-day riders.
The Belgian says he’s not giving up on racing the six-day circuit, but says the road will take more priority in the coming years.
“I am very happy to win this race for the team, because last year I was almost without a contract and they believed in me,” he said, referring to Omega Pharma-Quick Step. “I think it is possible to balance six-day and the road. A full track calendar and the road is too difficult. I love the track. I will never stop on it, but I also love racing on the road.”
Keisse was left off the team’s Giro d’Italia squad, but he hopes to keep gaining confidence on the road in the coming months, perhaps earning a spot for the team’s Vuelta a España squad later this season.
By then, he’ll be ready to head back to the track.
“The road season ends around September, October, that’s just about right after racing in rainy and windy roads,” he said. “Then when I get sick of the track, I go back to the road, no problem.”
The eight-day Turkey tour concludes Sunday in a circuit course well-suited for the pack’s sprinters. The stage starts in Europe and crosses over to Asia in greater Istanbul.