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Having bridged across to a four-rider front group on the Berendries, Kristoff did a lot of work before taking a hugely dominant sprint win ahead of Debusschere and Devolder to move into the lead of the Driedaagse van de Panne

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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DRIEDAAGSE DE PANNE

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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STIJN DEVOLDER

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31.03.2015 @ 17:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) proved that he is fully ready for the Tour of Flanders when he took a convincing win in the first stage of the Driedaagse van de Panne in very unusual circumstances. Instead of waiting for a sprint, he bridged across to a group with his teammate Sven Erik Bystrøm and after the 6 riders had managed to keep the peloton at bay, he beat Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) and Stijn Devolder (Trek) in a sprint to take the overall lead.

 

When Alexander Kristoff wins a bike race, it is usually decided in a bunch sprint. However, the big Norwegian knows that he has to use other skills to win the major classics and so he decided to take a different approach to today’s first stage of the Driedaagse van de Panne.

 

The traditional opener of the short stage race is always held in the Flemish Ardennes and includes some of the climbs that are known from the major Flemish classics. Kristoff proved that he is ready to go on the attack in that terrain on Sunday when he used an aggressive performance to take another win in what has already been a stellar season.

 

Katusha had first played the card of Sven Erik Bystrøm who had joined forces with Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal) to form a strong duo on the Leberg with 26km to go. On the next climb, Kristoff showed impressive strength to bridge the gap on his own and moments later Stijn Devolder (Trek) also got across.

 

Those four riders quickly caught Jens Debusschere and Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) who had attacked earlier in the race to form a very strong 6-rider group. Apart from Debusschere who had been on the attack all day, the riders worked very well together to distance a bigger 30-rider group that had gathered behind.

 

For a long time Christian Knees (Sky) was doing all the work before he finally got some help from teammate Bernhard Eisel and when the Austrian blew up, Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) also came to the fore.

 

However, the effort didn’t really pay off and with 17km to go, the escapees had extended their gap to 45 seconds. At this point, Keukeleire blew up and instead Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana) started to work. Later his teammate Alexey Lutsenko added more firepower to the chase but it had no effect as the gap stayed at 45 seconds for a long time.

 

Keukeleire got back to the front to take one final turn before the riders hit the Eikenmolen climb with 9km to go. Here Bystrøm set a hard pace to prevent the Lotto trio from attacking and the 6 riders were still together when they reached the summit.

 

Behind, Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) led the group onto the climb and it was Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) who started the attacking. He was joined by Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha), Jasper Stuyven (Trek) and Rick Zabel (BMC) but they were quickly brought back.

 

There was no cooperation in the chase group and so Youcef Regugui (MTN), Gruzdev and Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) tried a move. When they were brought back, it was Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) giving it a go before Bradley Wiggins (Sky) decided to restore order by initiating a chase.

 

Wiggins was unable to bring down the 35-second gap despite getting help from Gruzdev, Knees Durbridge and Lampre-Merida. It was now clear that the escapees would stay away and decide the stage.

 

Bystrøm made a small attack just before the flamme rouge and when De Bie had brought him back, he started to ride on the front. With 500m to go, De Bie accelerated but Kristoff was in the perfect position. Debusschere tried to anticipate the big Norwegian but he had no chance against the immense power of the Katusha leader who took a dominant win ahead of the Belgian champion and Devolder.

 

Stefan Küng (BMC) had made a late attack from the peloton and he crossed the line in 7th, 32 seconds too late. 2 seconds later Demare beat Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida in the sprint for 8th.

 

With the win, Kristoff takes the first leader’s jersey in the race and he goes into tomorrow’s second stage with an advantage of 2 seconds over Debusschere. He faces a tough test in the 217km stage which brings the riders along flat roads to the well-known climb of the Monteberg and the Kemmelberg at the midpoint before they again hit flat roads for the final part back to the coast. Stormy conditions are forecasted and with a crosswind for the final part of the stage, a selective spectacle is on the cards.

 

A hilly opener

The Driedaagse van de Panne kicked off with a very traditional opening stage that brought the rider over 201.6km from De Panne to Zottegem. After a flat first half, the riders reached the Flemish Ardennes where they tackled a total of 13 hellingen and Haaghoek pave thrice. The race ended with two laps of a 44.5km finishing circuit that included 5 hellingen each. The Eikenmolen came just 8.5km from the finish and was followed by the Klemhoutstraat before the riders descended to the finish.

 

Like in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, the riders had stormy conditions for the race which made for some nervous faces at the start in De Panne. Due to the extreme winds and the narrow roads in the beginning, the riders decided to neutralize the first 12km of the stage.

 

A fast start

With Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) being the only non-starter, the riders finally took off from De Panne. One of the Etixx-QuickStep leaders Yves Lampaert punctured already in the neutral zone but he was back in the peloton by the time, the real start was given.

 

The riders had a strong tailwind in the first part of the stage and this made for some very fast and nervous racing. In fact, the peloton was going so fast that the cars ahead of the pace were driving too slowly which created some dangerous situations.

 

Steegmans crashes

Already after a few minutes, the peloton had split into three groups and the nervous racing caused some crashes. Gert Steegmans (Trek) who was third overall last year, hit the deck and left the race in an ambulance.

 

3 riders briefly got clear but they had no chance against the fast-moving peloton. After 45 minutes of racing, another group got a gap when Jonas Rickaert (Topsport Vlaanderen), Shane Archbold (Bora-Argon 18), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani), Eduard Grosu (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Kevin Hulsmans (Vastgoedservice), Emiel Vermeulen (3M) and Jonathan Dufrasne (Wallonie) escaped.

 

The break is formed

Sky took control of the peloton and after an hour during which the riders had covered 56.2km, it came back together. Instead, Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal), Jarl Salomein (Topsport Vlaanderen), Michael Reihs (Cult) and Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida) and they managed to build an advantage of 30 seconds by the time, they got to the feed zone.

 

Sky had again taken control of the peloton and they allowed 11 riders to take off in pursuit. Meanwhile, the escapees hit the Edelareberg with an advantage of 40 seconds.

 

De Vreese bridges the gap

From the chase group, Laurens De Vreese (Astana) emerged and he was 20 seconds behind the front group when they hit the Haaghoek pave for the first time. At this point, the peloton had lost a minute.

 

De Vreese caught the leaders when they hit the Leberg where Salomein took maximum points like he had done it on the Edelareberg. Further back, the peloton again started to split.

 

De Vreese drops off

Salomein was again first at the Berendries which was too hard for De Vreese. The Belgian drifted backwards and while the peloton regrouped, he suddenly found himself 30 seconds behind.

 

De Vreese was brought back before Salomein won the intermediate sprint at the first passage of the finish line. At this point, the peloton had lost 1.36 after a second hour with an average speed of 46kph.

 

Greipel takes off

A six-rider chase group with André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) briefly took off but they were quickly brought back. However, the faster pace meant that the gap was down to 54 seconds with 78km to go.

 

Sky now got some assistance from Katusha but the escapees managed to extend their advantage to 1.05 when Salomein led the group over the top of the Leberg and Berendries. Meanwhile, the attacking started from the peloton, with Matthew Brammeier (MTN) launching the first unsuccessful move.

 

Lots of attacks

Loic Pestiaux was the next to make a move as they went up the Valkenberg and he was joined by Yannick Martinez (Europcar). Moments later, they hit the crosswinds and that opened the door for lots of attacks.

 

Devolder, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep), William Bonnet (FDJ), Demare and Boris Vallee (Lotto Soudal) were among a few riders to join that group but they were quickly caught. The peloton again slowed down and while the gap went back up to 1.15, Michael Vingerling (3M) took off.

 

Bak takes off

Salomein led Reihs, Debusschere and Oliveira over the top of the Eikenmolen while Bernhard Eisel stated to chase for Sky. He tried to split the group in the crosswinds and this spelled the end for Vingerling. HHe also brought a short-lived move from Bjorn Thurau (Bora) and Iljo Keisse (Etixx) back.

 

Bak was the next to try and after a small group with Knees had briefly tried to join him, he bridged the gap to the break which was now just 15 seconds ahead. He shouted to his teammate Debusschere and went straight to the front, distancing Salomein, Reihs and Oliveira.

 

More attacks

Reguigui started some attacking from the peloton and suddenly a big group with the likes of Lutsenko, Knees, Elia Viviani (Sky) and Alexandr Porsev (Katusha) had formed. They caught the Oliveira trio but were brought back with 46km to go.

 

Devolder and Küng were the next to try before Martinez gave it a go. Devolder tried again with Marco Haller (Katusha) before Björn Thurau (Bora) took off.

 

Katusha take control

Bak led Debusschere across the finish line to start the final lap and win the final intermediate sprint. Thurau followed 25 seconds later while Katusha had now started to chase with Gatis Smukulis and Rudi Selig.

 

Thurau was brought back while the front duo managed to extend their advantage to 1.05. Smukulis and Selig were controlling the situation in the headwind before Orica-GreenEDGE took over with Jens Mouris.

 

Lampaert attacks on the Leberg

Approaching the Haaghoek, Eisel again hit the front but it was Keisse who led the group onto the cobbles. While he strung out the peloton, his teammate Van Keirsbulck suffered a disastrous puncture.

 

The front duo hit the Leberg with an advantage of 55 seconds and here Yves Lampaert (Etixx), Jasper Stuyven (Trek), De Bie and Bystrøm attacked. They were joined by Demare, Manuel Quinziato (BMC), Frederik Backaert (Wanty) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and those 8 riders started the Berendries with an advantage.

 

Brystrøm rode hard up the climb and only De Bie could follow him. While the rest of the group was swallowed up, Kristoff made a big acceleration to bridge across, starting the decisive move from which he emerged triumphant.

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