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The Frenchman attacked with 12km to go and narrowly held off a three-rider charge from behind led by Wout van Aert (Belgium).
As Van Aert reconnected with Laporte’s back wheel in the final metres, the two sprinted for the line, with Laporte holding on for the win atop the Col du Vam. Olav Kooij (Netherlands) finished third, and Arnaud De Lie (Belgium) fourth.
“It’s hard to believe,” Laporte said later. “It was a crazy final. I felt good and I thought, ‘Ok, if I go to the sprint with guys like De Lie and Van Aert it will be hard to win. I tried and it worked.”
“It was more by heart because it is hard to predict a race like this, and I didn’t think so much. I just fought. It’s crazy to win a jersey like this. It’s hard to believe. I have to give this victory to my French team and my family. I also think of Nathan [Van Hooydonck]. I think he will be happy to see me in this jersey.”
Laporte formed part of a decisive late-race breakaway that included his teammate Sandy Dujardin (France), and Belgian pair De Lie and Van Aert as well as Mads Pedersen and Andreas Kron (Denmark), Kooij and Mike Teunissen (Netherlands), John Degenkolb (Germany) and Rasmus Tiller (Norway).
Great Britain and Italy, nations not among the breakaway, were forced into a position to chase as the move gained 30 seconds into the last lap.
Laporte then attacked the selection with 12km to go in a similar move that netted Mischa Bredewold (Netherlands) the victory in the previous day’s elite women’s road race.
Laporte quickly gained 15 seconds, but the gap was reduced to 12 as he raced into the bottom of the Col du VAM. As he pushed over the steeper slopes of the ascent, Pedersen and Kron and then Van Aert and De Lie tried to close the gap before the top.
Over the cobbles, Laporte looked back to see Van Aert, De Lie and Kooij in pursuit, and the trio closed down much of his lead in the final metres.
Van Aert launched his sprint, nearly catching Laporte, but the Frenchman responded with one last surge to the line to take the victory.
How it unfolded
The elite men’s road race marked the conclusion of the UEC Road European Championships with a nearly 200km race that started in Assen and travelled 115km toward the six 13.7km finishing circuits that included the Col du VAM.
Ahmet Orken (Turkey) was the first to attack after the neutral start, with reactions from Rory Townsend (Ireland) and Johan Jacobs (Switzerland).
That initial move led to the day’s five-rider breakaway that included Townswend, Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland), Josh Tarling (Great Britain, Normal Vahtra (Estonia) and Mathias Vacek (Czech Republic). The breakaway quickly gained 20 seconds and pushed out to two minutes on the field led by the Belgian team.
Several riders crashed in the opening kilometres of the race, and with 115km to go, a large crash took down nearly 15 riders, including riders from Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Ireland, Israel, Poland and Italy, and Bauke Mollema (Netherlands) was forced to abandon the race.
The crash also caused the main field to split as France, Denmark, and Belgium continued to set high speeds at the front of the peloton.
As the race approached the first of six finishing circuits, the gap to the break dropped to 45 seconds. Tarling, Vahtra, and Townsend were eventually distanced from the break as Bissegger and Vacek continued ahead, their lead floating between 30 and one minute with 50km to go.
Two chasers jumped from the peloton, Jaka Primožič (Slovenia) and Dušan Rajović (Serbia), not strong enough to close the gap completely, settled in between the two groups at 20 seconds off the back of the leaders, and then caught as late-race accelerations came from the field behind.
Belgium set the speeds along the cobbles on the upper slopes of the Col du VAM with three laps to go, reacting to the attacks from other nations. But Andreas Kron (Denmark) took advantage of a lull in the field and surged ahead, forcing Italy, Switzerland and Great Britain to join Belgium in the chase. The move was short-lived, and the peloton reeled in Kron, along with Bissegger and Vacek, 30km out.
Italy led the field onto the Col du VAM with two laps to go, Filippo Ganna accelerating over the top, forcing splits in the field and Belgium to react. Mike Teunissen (Netherlands) counter-attacked with Ben Turner (Great Britain) on his wheel, and then Christophe Laporte (France) made the move that ignited the winning breakaway.
At first, he was alone out front but was soon joined by six: Dujardin, De Lie and Van Aert, Pedersen and Kron, Kooij and Teunissen, John Degenkolb, and Tiller, which formed the day’s winning breakaway. At 12km out he made what turned out to be the winning move, holding off his companions at the line to claim victory.
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