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Iljo Keisse’s Most Exciting Finalé!

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If we take Tom Boonen’s epics out of the equation there’s no doubt about the best finale of the year.

The end game of stage seven of the Presidential Tour of Turkey saw a break of seven riders clear with six kilometres to go.

Despite their lead plummeting as an angry peloton closed them down, there were riders skiving and scheming.

Iljo Keisse
Iljo heads for his superb solo win.

One man was having none of it and with just over five kilometres to go he bolted – Iljo Keisse.

As his erstwhile partners in crime debated the issue of who should – and indeed, could – chase the Belgian, Keisse built his lead.

As he soloed under the red kite it looked as if QuickStep were about to easily add another victory to their stunning 2012 roll of honour.

But that smooth Turkish asphalt had sheen to it in the hot afternoon sun and as Keisse gingerly took the last corner of the day – a tight hairpin right hander into the finishing straight – his front wheel tucked in under him and he was down.

With what looked like all the time in the world, he picked himself up and re-mounted, only to discover that his chain was off.

Again, with all of the urgency of a man out for a Sunday potter, he dismounted, put the chain back in its rightful place, had a look back down the road and pedalled off.

In marked contrast to Keisse’s cool, calm and collected demeanour, behind him, the hounds of Hell were unleashed as the bunch streamed round the corner, the lead out men doing their final spells before handing over to Alpha Males.

It looked over for Keisse as the biggest dogs in the pack – Petacchi, Renshaw and Kittel – lunged, pummelled and swerved after him.

Come on Keisse, for goodness sake!’ Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby screamed into his microphone – and for once we agreed with him.

Keisse took a final glance back, lifted himself from the saddle, once, twice – whist behind the big shoulders of Kittel began to fill the screen, but too late.

Keisse’s arms went high and we remembered why it’s the best sport in the world.

On the Tuesday after the race, Keisse took time to ring VeloVeritas to tell us about the ride of his life.

Iljo Keisse
Stage 7’s podium, Iljo is flanked by Marcel Kittel and Alessandro Petacchi. Image©Omega Pharma/Tim De Waele.

Iljo, congratulations, a beautiful victory – in the breakaway you had that glint in your eye.

“Thank you, I was feeling better every day in Turkey.

“There were some mountain stages to start but as the race went in to the flatter stages I was very motivated.

“I was hoping to win selection for our Giro team – as it turned out that didn’t happen, but I was really focussed on a win.”

You went alone with just over five kilometres to go.

“There were two other guys I was worried about – the Astana rider, Andrey Zeits, was strongest on the hills and Mikhail Ignateyev (Katusha) is always a rider you have to watch, you never know how good he is and I thought he was maybe playing with us.

“I went alongside him and told him; “I know you can do so much better, I’m watching you and I won’t let you go!”

“Before I made the break, I tried a few times to get away, not really attacks, just raising the speed.

“We had a tailwind and I knew that if we were riding at 50/55 kph then it would be hard for the bunch to catch us.”

Iljo Keisse
Iljo reckons this win signals the end of a particularly bad period for him. Image©Omega Pharma/Tim De Waele.

What caused the crash?

“It was warm, and on the big city roads you maybe have some diesel oil?

“I could see it was shiny, that’s why I took my time and went really slowly.”

You were so calm about it.

“I’ve seen it on YouTube many times now and when I watch it I get nervous!

“I really can’t remember what I was thinking – maybe it was “f**k! I’ve lost it!”

“I can tell you that I maybe looked really, really cool, but if you were to check my heart rate at that moment – it wouldn’t be so calm!”

Your best win on the road, Iljo?

“Yeah, of course, I’ve had kermis and criterium wins and victories in UCI races but this is a real world-class event.

“All of the big sprinters are here, except Cavendish, and if you can hold off a peloton like that it says a lot about your condition.”

It was nice shot of the podium – you in the middle of Kittel and Petacchi.

“The finish line pictures are cool too; it looks like I won in a great sprint – that looks good!”

Iljo Keisse
Iljo wins a sprint, but not really! Image©Omega Pharma/Tim De Waele.

Does this win mark a new start for you?

“I had a good winter, from my first Six Day to my last.

“And this spring I’ve ridden races which I’ve dreamed of – my first start in Paris-Roubaix, for example.

“I’ve always been a motivated rider but being part of this Omega Pharma QuickStep team is part of the reason why I’m going so well.

“When you’re part of the best team in the world, doing your job well, it gives you motivation to do even better.”