Greg van Avermaet claimed an impressive victory in Geraardsbergen with a well-timed attack on stage five at the Eneco Tour.
The BMC Racing Belgian made no mistake on home ground and the cobbles which mark the start of the famous Muur climb, fending off his rivals by a second at the finish.
A late surge to second place from Tom Dumoulin netted the Dutchman six key bonus seconds and moved him into the race lead. The Giant-Shimano rider now holds a slender two-second advantage over Lars Boom heading into the weekend.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas was among a number of riders to launch late attacks inside the technical final kilometre and the Welshman crossed the line seventh, tying up slightly but doing enough to remain fifth overall.
A parcours featuring 19 climbs resembled a mini Tour of Flanders and it was the famous ascent of the Muur which began to split the race apart as the riders began the bell lap.
Anticipation was high on Friday morning ahead of 162.5 kilometres on some of the most famous roads in the sport.
A strong four-man break of Jens Debusschere (Lotto Belisol), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) and Pablo Lastras (Movistar) eventually headed up the road as the climbs began.
With a closing circuit featuring the Denderoordberg, the Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg attacks were ensured, with plenty of teams willing to ride to keep the pace high.
As the kilometres clicked off the weather swung from bright sunshine to heavy showers, with Trentin and Lastras opting to push on second time up the Muur. That urgency was mirrored in the peloton with an acceleration from Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) which drew out the leader’s jersey of Boom as an elite group formed.
Gilbert, Boom (Belkin), Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing) and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge) briefly formed a dangerous quartet but it was Thomas who was among the first to bridge from the chasing group.
Trentin and Lastras saw their run ended with 3.5km to go and attention turned to the final climb. Pavel Brutt (Katusha) held on for third with a long-rang dig but the day belonged to van Avermaet who timed his move to perfection.
Stage five result
1 Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, 3:48:37
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano, +1
3 Pavel Brutt (Rus) Katusha, same time
4 Matti Breschel (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo, st
5 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin, st
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +6
7 Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky, st
8 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Belisol, st
9 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
10 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing, st
1 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano, 16:34:29
2 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin, +2
3 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing, +11
4 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana, +14
5 Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky, +21
6 Pavel Brutt (Rus) Katusha, +23
7 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin, +24
8 Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, +25
9 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, st
10 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge, +28