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The first stage of the Tour de Luxembourg comes down to the expected bunch sprint where Greipel emerges as the fastest; Van Poppel finishes third and defends his lead 

Photo: A.S.O.












05.06.2014 @ 17:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard
André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) continued his successful return to competition after his broken collarbone when he won today's first road stage of the Tour de Luxembourg in a bunch sprint. Having controlled the race  to reel in the early escapees, Greipel was delivered by his team and held off Michael Mørkøv (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Danny Van Poppel (Trek) who did enough to defend his leader's jersey.
André Greipel saw his classics campaign be cut short when he crashed out of Gent-Wevelgem with a broken collarbone. He made his return in the Tour of Turkey where he worked for his team and when he restarted his European season in the World Ports Classic, he hadn't won a single race for almost three months.
Since then, Greipel has been unstoppable. After winning the opening stage of the two-day comeback race, he went on to claim a victory in last week's Tour of Belgium. Today he continued his impressive build-up to the Tour de France when he won the first stage of the Tour de Luxembourg in Hesperange, two years after he last took a victory in the Luxembourgish city.
After the opening prologue, all was set for a stage for the sprinters and the Trek team of race leader Danny Van Poppel dutifully controlled the day's early three-rider break. As they hit the 18.2km finishing circuit that would be covered twice, Lotto Belisol took control and made sure that the escapees were back in the fold inside the final 5km.
Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) made a late attack but there was no one denying the sprinters today. The flawless Lotto Belisol train delivered their German sprinter to the line and he held off Michael Mørkøv and Danny Van Poppel in the sprint.
Van Poppel's third place was enough for the young Dutchman to extend his overall lead over Jean-Pierre Drucker (Wanty) to 8 seconds. The latter must have left the stage disappointed after finishing fourth as a reversal of the 3rd and 4th places would have seen him draw equal with Van Poppel in the overall standings of his home race.
Van Poppel will now try to defend his lead in tomorrow's second stage which brings the riders from Rosport to Schifflange. The first part is rolling and has four categorized climbs and the stage ends with one lap of a 36.3km finishing circuit. It is mostly flat but the finishing straight is slightly uphill, making things a bit more difficult than they were in today's traditional sprint stage.
One for the sprinters
After the short evening prologue, the Tour de Luxembourg continued with its first road stage which is likely to be the easiest of the entire race. It brought the riders over 172.6km from the city of Luxembourg to Hesperange and after a rolling first part with three categorized climbs, things got flatter near the end. The stage ended with two laps of a mostly flat 18.2km finishing which meant that the stage was expected to end in a bunch sprint.
After the rainy prologue, the riders were pleased to take off under much better weather, with forecasts even prediciting very hot conditions for the weekend stages. All riders that had finished the prologue, took the start but Tomas Gil (Neri Sottoli) abandoned after 40km of racing.
A three-rider break
Despite the easy profile, there was a bit of attacking in the first part and it took a little time for the early break to be established. After 16km of racing, however, Juan Pablo Valencia (Colombia), Boris Dron (Wallonie) and Giuseppe Fonzi (Neri Sottoli) had opened a 1.20 gap.
The peloton took it easy for a little while, allowing the gap to reach a maximum of 5.20 by the time Dron beat Valencia and Fonzi at the top of the first climb. In the peloton, Trek had taken control and Fabio Silvestre and Calvin Watson did a solid work to bring the gap down to a manageable 4 minutes where it was kept stable for most of the day.
A battle for points
On the second climb, Valencia moved into the virtual lead in the mountains classification when he beat Fonzi and Dron into the minor positions and the Colombian was again first at the top of the final ascent. At that point, the gap had gone back up to 4.50.
At the first intermediate sprint point, Fonzi beat Dron and Valencia and now Trek had tightened the screws a bit, reducing the gap to 3.40. That was still the difference by the time the riders entered the finishing circuit but now Lotto Belisol took control of the situation.
Lotto in control
At the first passage of the line, the Belgian team had brought the gap down to 2.20 and at the end of the first lap, the escapees were only 1.19 ahead. However, they had saved a bit of energy from the finale and as they upped the pace, they still had 29km in hand with 8km to go.
With 5km to go, they were just 13 seconds ahead and moments later, they were brought back. Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) made an immediate counterattack and the Dane did well to build up a 10-second gap with 3km to go.
However, Trek had no intentions of relinquishing the leader's jersey and so they brought the Danish classics specialist back. From there all was set for a big bunch sprint where Greipel emerged as the fastest.



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