After Matt Bostock’s 10th place at the Circuit de Wallonie just eleven days previously, Canyon dhb SunGod were back in Belgium for the Ronde van Limburg on Monday, 24th May in the eastern-most of the five Dutch-speaking provinces that together form the Region of Flanders.
The 200km route commenced in Hasselt and took a southerly route through Bilzen and Borgloon to Tongeren. The parcours featured 13 short sharp classified climbs as well as a multitude of smaller hills and also included 8 cobblestone sections. The course made a variety of loops resulting in some of the climbs and cobbled sections being crossed on two, three or more occasions (see the route and profile below). The assortment of roads added their own challenges with the peloton having to fight for position coming into narrow sections and U-bends.
The Canyon dhb SunGod team was one of 11 Continental teams competing against three World Tour teams: Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, Lotto Soudal and Qhubeka ASSOS as well as six Pro Tour teams. In a field of 134 riders, one star name participating was current (!) Giro d’Italia Stage 2 winner Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) who had recovered from ‘illness’ that had put him out of the Grand Tour less than a week prior. Alex Colman who rode for Canyon dhb teams in 2019 & 2020 was competing for his new Pro Tour team, Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise.
The seven riders representing Canyon dhb SunGod were Matt Bostock, Jim Brown, Ryan Christensen (who had just returned to Europe from a long Covid-19 enforced period in New Zealand and still recuperating from a very recent collar bone fracture), Jacob Scott, Rob Scott (who was a late replacement for a sick Andy Tennant), Rory Townsend and Reece Wood. Directeur Sportif was as usual Simon Holt and the team’s dependable mechanic, Eoin O’Donohoe.
Notable time-trialist Brent Van Moer (Lotto Soudal) was probably the most prominent rider of the day having been in a break of three riders for much of the race gaining a lead of close to three minutes with 80km to go. Van Moer was also the most unlucky rider of the day having outlasted all his breakaway companions right into the last kilometre where he took a wrong turn in response to a less than definitive direction from a course marshall. Meanwhile, Colman had taken off from the front of the chasing peloton with two other riders with 47km to go and eventually caught Van Moer making a lead group of five with 40km remaining.
With 28km the Canyon dhb SunGod team demonstrated their intent with Rob Scott hitting the front of the chasing peloton with Townsend on his wheel putting them in a good position for the forthcoming cobbled climb. Colman dropped off the breakaway on a cobbled climb with 25km to go where Wood also made a move off the front of the peloton to try and cross up to the breakaway which was only 30 seconds ahead at this point. On a cobbled section with 16km to go Van Moer went solo and increased his lead back up to one minute as the peloton shattered in his wake.
Van Moer was gamely hanging onto his lead with a gap of around seven or eight seconds at the red kite marker indicating just one kilometre to go. At this point Bostock was storming the front of the peloton of about 30 remaining riders with Townsend clamped to his rear wheel and the Arkea Samsic lead-out train right behind them.
Townsend provides his perspective of the race below as he ultimately captured 10th place.
The race was won with a typical late demonstration of sustained power and speed from Merlier, denying Briton, Dan McLay (Arkea Samsic) who took his first podium spot of the year. Third place went to 2015 Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix winner, John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal).
Lead-out man Bostock finished 30th in the same time as Merlier, Wood and Jacob Scott were 56th & 57th at 1min 37sec, Rob Scott was 66th at 1min 55sec and Christensen the last classified finisher in 84th place, 9min 40sec down. Brown was recorded as DNF having been withdrawn from the race with a large number of other riders at 32km to go who had fallen behind the pace.
Yet again this was a great team performance with all riders making their contributions to the successful result. It was heartening to see Bostock changing roles to support Townsend this time round – no doubt the favour will be reciprocated in forthcoming races.
Following the race, 10th place finisher Rory Townsend reported:
“Limburg is a race I really enjoyed last year (2019) when I was just outside the top 10 (13th) having done a race the day before as well (2nd at the UCI 1.2 Memorial Philippe van Coningsloo). We were really unlucky last year (2019) to lose Ryan in a nasty crash towards the end as he was going really well so it was nice having him back from New Zealand this year as he knows what the race is like.
However, the course was quite a lot different this year and also a lot more difficult. Last year the race split into quite a small group at the end but a lot of that was to do with the terrible weather. This year there were a lot more climbs, cobbles and a lot more to be mindful of, but at least we had good weather.
From the start we didn’t really have anyone keeping an eye on the break, we were just circulating and rolling with things but we knew that from 34km when we hit the first climb there would be no real opportunity to relax. We tried to simplify the race to some extent by treating it like a long Tour Series (circuit) race. From 33km to 183km where the last cobbled sector was, I just imagined that in that 150km I had to stay near the front and not drop back. What happened was that the group (of riders) fell away from behind and despite early crashes for Jim Brown and Jacob Scott, we did well to have pretty much the whole team there in the key selections. It wasn’t long before we looked around and the peloton was 60 and then 40 and then 30-odd riders and we still had a really good representation in the (front) group.
There were a few late moves going and Reece Wood jumped across to one of them which meant that even though he didn’t quite make it across, he was in decent position when the next selection was made so we were still doing well with numbers. When it came towards the closing stages, it was just me and Matt Bostock left in a group of less than 30 riders. I had Simon Holt (DS) on the radio talking us through the finish and how he wanted it to be and we knew we wanted to be in a good place with another half a kilometre to go and Bostock and I literally went straight to the front and led 1st and 2nd through the finishing corners. Bostock started his effort from there with me on his wheel with about 500-600 metres to go. It was a mammoth effort by him to pull us along and also shut down the one Lotto Soudal rider who was away. Once Matt had swung off, I let the Arkea Samsic train come past and I was battling for wheels behind them. When we got to the sprint I followed Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix who went on to win. I got a bit squeezed on the right-hand side going up the hill and lost quite a bit of momentum and when I had to kick again my legs buckled a little bit which was a shame. I ended up hanging on for a top 10 without really challenging which was disappointing, but to salvage another top 10 from that race was definitely a positive and I think the real positive was that the team had so much strength and depth in terms of the numbers there towards the finale which is a real positive sign to take forwards.’”
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Written by Paul and Marina Stedman and rider contributor Rory Townsend.
1 & 2: PCS ProCyclingStats
3,4,5,6 & 7: Laura Jespers @flandrien_photo (Instagram)