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Having attacked on the final climb with less than 5km to go, Keukeleire beat Ulissi and Thwaites in a 3-rider sprint to win stage 1 and take the leader’s jersey at the Tour de Slovenie; the peloton arrived 3 seconds later

Photo: A.S.O.

DIEGO ULISSI

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JENS KEUKELEIRE

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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TOUR DE SLOVENIE

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16.06.2016 @ 19:30 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) broke a three-year drought when he emerged as the strongest from a front trio on stage 1 of the Tour de Slovenie. Having joined forces with Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18) on a short, steep climb on the finishing circuit, he held off the peloton by three seconds and won the 3-rider sprint to take both the win and the leader’s jersey.

 

In 2010, Jens Keukeleire had one of the best neo-pro seasons in recent years. His many wins made him a hot topic on the transfer market and it was Orica-GreenEDGE that won the battle for his signature.

 

With a stage win at the 2012 Eneco Tour and two victories at the 2013 Vuelta a Burgos, he immediately confirmed his potential but then he disappeared into an anonymous domestique role. He occasionally shone in the classics but until today he hadn’t won a race since 2013.

 

Today he finally broke his drought when he won a deceptively hard first stage of the Tour de Slovenie. On a day when Dimension Data worked hard to set Mark Cavendish up for a sprint win, a small climb on the 4.8km finishing circuit made the peloton split to pieces and Keuekeleire saw his chance. Together with his teammate Jack Haig, Diego Ulissi and Scott Thwaites, he attacked on the small wall and after Haig had emptied himself for his teammate, Keukeleire beat his two companions in a sprint.

 

The 23rd edition of the Tour de Slovenie kicked off with a 177.8km stage between the capital of Ljubljana and Koper. The riders tackled a category 2 and a category 3 climb during the first 70km before they got to a flat and descending section. The terrain again got a bit hillier in the final 50km and the most difficult challenges came when the riders have reached Koper for the first time with 24km to go. Without crossing the finish line, they tackled a small category 3 climb whose top came with just 18.9km to go. From there they descended to the finishing city where they tackled a short climb. Finally, they did one lap of a 4.8km circuit that includes the same short ascent.

 

141 riders were present when they gathered in the capital under a sunny sky. As expected, there were lots of attacks in the early part and no one had managed to get clear when they got to the first intermediate sprint at the 9.6km mark. Here Jef van Meirhaeghe (Topsport) beat Luka Pajac (Slovenia) and Gasper Katrasnik (Adria Mobil) in the first intermediate sprint.

 

Moments later, the elastic snapped when Jon Bozic (Adria Mobil), Kenny De Ketele (Topsport Vlaanderen), Tilen Finkst (Radenska), Michele Viola (Meridiana) and Marek Canecky (Amplatz) attacked. At the 18km mark, they already had an advantage of five minutes and it had gone out to seven minutes when they hit the first climb.

 

Viole suffered on the ascent and had to let his companions go before Canecky beat De Ketele and Bozic in the KOM sprint. However, the Italian managed to get back on the descent.

 

The gap reached a maximum of 7.30 but had been reduced to 6.40 when Bozic beat Finkst and Viola in the second intermediate sprint at the 51.8km mark. It was Lampre-Merida that took control and brought the advantage down to 5.35 at the bottom of the second climb where Bozic beat De Ketele and Canecky in the KOM sprint.

 

Viola beat Finkst and Bozic in the third intermediate sprint at the 73.6km mark where the gap had dropped to less than five minutes. Sky and Dimension Data had taken over the pace-setting and kept reducing the gap which was down to four minutes at the feed zone where the riders were met by a shower.

 

Viola beat Bozic and Finkst in the fourth intermediate sprint after 108.5km of racing before the peloton crossed the line 2.50 later. Dimension Data had taken complete control and with 46km to go, there was only a minute left of the lead.

 

Viola was dropped from the break which managed to push the gap out to two minutes which they still had with 27km to go. Here De Ketele and Canecky left their companions before Canecky pressed on alone on the lower slopes of the final climb.

 

It was almost all in vain as he was passed by Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani) before the top but he managed to take second in the KOM sprint ahead of Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha). It all came back together on the descent but it only set the scene for new attacks. A bad crash ended the race for Davide Vigano (Androni)

 

Kochetkov and Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff) got a small advantage as they entered the final 10km but Lampre-Merida quickly brought them back. The move was countered by one of the pre-race favourites Rein Taaramae (Katusha) but he failed to stay clear.

 

Instead, Keukeleire, Haig, Ulissi and Thwaites made their move and they narrowly managed to hold off the peloton. The Belgian came out on top in the sprint while Haig lost a few seconds in the finale, narrowly holding off Francesco Gavazzi (Androni) who won the sprint for fifth 3 seconds behind the leaders

 

With the win, Keukeleire is the first leader but is in the same time as both Ulissi and Thwaites. However, there will be no chance to defend the jersey in stage 2 which is the queen stage. After a flat start the riders will tackle both a category 1 and a category 2 climb before they get to the bottom of the brutal Golte mountain which averages 7.3% over 15.7km and will go a long way in determining the overall winner of the race.

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