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“I cannot be that bad when I won the race. I didn’t feel as strong as I did on this stage last year, but a win is a win. I felt better than I did in Harelbeke, so for sure it was the sickness that affected me there."

Photo: Paumer Kare Dhelie Thorstad

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ALEXEY LUTSENKO

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BMC RACING TEAM

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BORA-HANSGROHE

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DRIEDAAGSE DE PANNE

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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JASPER DE BUYST

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JOHAN LE BON

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JURAJ SAGAN

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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LIEUWE WESTRA

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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LUKE DURBRIDGE

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MADS PEDERSEN

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MANUEL BELLETTI

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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ONE PRO CYCLING

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SACHA MODOLO

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STÖLTING SERVICE GROUP

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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WILIER TRIESTINA

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29.03.2016 @ 22:26 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After his withdrawal from Gent-Wevelgem due to illness, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) boosted his confidence for the Tour of Flanders significantly as he continued his winning streak at the Driedaagse van De Panne by winning the very hard opening stage. The Norwegian arrived at the finish in an Astana sandwich but managed to control Alexey Lutsenko and Lieuwe Westra before launching a devastating sprint to take the win and a 1-second advantage over Lutsenko into the second stage.

 

We have gathered several reactions.

 

Triumphant Alexander Kristoff: I can’t be so bad

With a tremendous turn of speed at the end of a long day, Team KATUSHA’s Alexander Kristoff held off a duo of challengers to earn the victory in Zottegem on Tuesday for stage 1 of the 40th Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. At 198,2 km, the stage began in De Panne with a fast pace and plenty of wind on course.

 

”This was really hard today. I wasn’t feeling strong at all. Actually, Westra was the strongest in our group. He pulled me and Lutsenko almost all the way to the line. I tried to contribute but I didn’t really have the legs. I had already said through the radio that I was not feeling so well with 2 laps to go. At the end I still managed to survive and be there to win. I’ve been a little bit sick these past few days so I hope I can have better legs tomorrow,” said stage 1 winner and general classification leader Alexander Kristoff. Kristoff rides as the defending champion from 2015.

 

Under instructions to be in front and with the help of Michael Mørkøv, Kristoff put himself in a long break that eventually saw him pitted against Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko of Astana. With numbers in their favor, Westra and Lutsenko had the possibility of making the final hard for Kristoff, but the Norwegian rider was attentive and patient, finally sprinting away from the duo in the last 50 meters to claim victory with a time of 4:22.34 (45.291 km/h). Lutsenko and Westra completed the podium and join Kristoff at the top of the classification at 1- and six-seconds respectively.

 

”Both of them were riding for the classification and now they are in a good position. I am not feeling as strong as I did here last year so I’m not sure about doing a good time trial, but I will try and we’ll see how things go. I felt good at the start but then after about 100 km I didn’t feel so well, but I think this was the same for everyone. It was a fast start. We knew it would be hard. My director Torsten Schmidt said we had to be in the front because echelons would be forming and he was right,” said. Alexander Kristoff. 

 

“I cannot be that bad when I won the race. I didn’t feel as strong as I did on this stage last year, but a win is a win. I felt better than I did in Harelbeke, so for sure it was the sickness that affected me there. I was hoping to feel a bit stronger today, actually, but there are still two more days to come.

 

"It was a difficult day early, with a strong crosswind. We managed to have four riders in the first group. But when it regrouped and riders left, I told myself that it could be the right move.

 

"I felt like I was back on track. I felt good at the start but in the end I started suffering again on the finishing circuit. At one moment I thought I would be dropped. I said on the radio I didn’t feel good at all but I managed to suffer through it and hang on. It was me and two Astana in the end, and it played in my favour that it was not a one-day race. They were going for GC and they rode all the way to the finish line.

 

“If they’d played with me maybe they could have dropped me but we had to work all the way to the line for the overall time. That played to my advantage so I could beat them in the sprint.

 

"I did not feel strong today, unlike Lieuwe Westra. Eventually I won, but that was not at full strength. I hope I'm better tomorrow.

 

“The general classification for myself? I do not think that it will be this year. There was a reason that I skipped Gent-Wevelgem. 

 

"The first hour was hard. I was all day à bloc. Tomorrow we'll see again. Of course I want to win this stage race for the second time, but whether I will succeed is a very open question, given my current condition.

 

"A win is a win. It's always good for the confidence. It cannot be so bad when I win, and even the simple fact of being there late in the race when there are only two other riders. It's always better than in Harelbeke.But I hoped to feel better. I do not feel as strong as I was last year in this stage. There are still two more days. Maybe I need three days of suffering to improve myself.

 

“I don’t really know what the illness was. I know my wife was really sick one day with headache and a slight fever, then I got the same. Now Sven [Erik Bystrøm] has got it and he’s gone home. I was almost two days off the bike. But yesterday I felt a bit better. My power was fine when I did some intervals in training, so I knew I could start.

 

“Every year I’ve felt good after doing this race, and I’ve always been quite good in Flanders. For me it works fine. It’s like how I train at home: a three-day block and then two days of rest. It’s easier for me to go hard in a race than in training.

 

“I’m leading overall now and I want to keep it until the time trial. But if Westra rides as good as he did today, then maybe I will lose it there. I think I will struggle to do as good a time trial as last year.”

 

KATUSHA teammate Marco Haller sprinted in with the group at 36-seconds to earn tenth place on the stage.

 

Coming off a remarkable season of 20 wins in 2015, Alexander Kristoff, 28, has already amassed six wins for this year, starting back in February with wins in Qatar. As last year’s winner of the Tour of Flanders, Kristoff looks to defend his title in Sunday’s race.

 

Alexey Lutsenko confident ahead of De Panne time trial

"I'm getting more and more familiar with the Flemish roads,” said Alexey Lutsenko, “and I’m very happy with second place today.

 

“My condition is growing and I think I can do a good time trial on Thursday."

 

Lieuwe Westra defends Astana tactic and regrets late time loss

“My goal is the general classification - said Lieuwe Westra, third at the finish line and the most combative rider of the day, “and I gained about thirty seconds on some rivals for the final victory. The other good news is that I have prepared well for this race and the legs are getting better and better.”

 

"On Tenbossestraat  I attacked,” he said in an interview on his website. “I had previously already been told by Luke Rowe that I should attack here and if he wanted it, he had to choose my wheel. He did and we got away with Kristoff. When I looked back, I saw that both of them were on their limit. I saw my teammate Alexey Lutsenko arriving in the distance and I then waited for him.

 

”I thought this was the moment. I would rather attack on asphalt than on the cobblestones of the Muur. In Luke Rowe I had a good companion. Actually, we rode away easily. I had very good legs. Yet we still lost a lot of ground in the last kilometers. I came here for the GC. If we had continued at full gas, we could have gained another 30 seconds. My current form, however, makes me tremendously happy. "

 

"We rode well with four and managed to keep the same pace as the peloton. With Kristoff I had already made a deal that we would work together and gain as much time as possinle. That he would win the stage is not bad because I want to go for the general classification and in the time trial I should be able to beat him.

 

"When we got to the Muur for the second time, Luke Rowe unfortunately had a flat tire. I heard it. That is unfortunate for him. Maybe if he had been there, we would have gained more time, but then I would perhaps not have got any bonus seconds.

 

"When we were three, the team car said that we had to attack. I do understand that Lutsenko eventually did so and I do not blame him. On the internet so much nonsense is writtenabout him and that just is not right. I am pleased with how he has rode and he's a good teammate.

 

''Furthermore, many people also ask why I did not attack earlier. Well, that's because I did not want to risk a counterattack and then give away 10 seconds to Kristoff. I am here to ride a good classification and unfortunately we lost 30 seconds in the last 3 km. Otherwise the overall standings would certainly have looked reasonable. Now anything happen and if Tony Martin does a super time trial and gains some seconds in the road stages, it is very exciting.

 

“Tomorrow it can split completely with the wind in thehilly zone. We want to see a hard race where anything can happen. If we start like we did today and it is still windy, it will be crazy. There will probably be more control than today. I hope a group goes away and that they take all the bonus seconds. I'm now second in the mountains classification, but that jersey has no interest. I want to have the final victory.”


 

“For me, we’re riding for the GC. I was not focused on the stage. I was more focused on the GC. I’m happy with my legs now and it’s ok, but I’m not so happy with the last five kilometres because we lost a lot of time there.”

 

“There was a wind of 54kph or something like that, and it was side wind all day, so we knew it would be very, very hard. You could see it today. After ten metres, the race had already broken up today. It was a very hard stage.

 

“Today I felt very good but with this wind, you never know. You could see it today.”

 

"We made a good race,” commented sport director Stefano Zanini. “From the beginning the group was very strong and we were always ahead. We can win this 3 Daagse De Panne with Westra but also with Lutsenko."

 

Breakthrough performance by 20-year-old Dane in De Panne

On stage 1 of the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (2.HC) Mads Pedersen showed that he’s competitive against the best pros as well. Two days after his victory in the U23 edition of Gent-Wevelgem, the young Dane showed a strong performance and was rewarded with the 4th place.

 

Strong tail- and crosswinds lead to a very high pace (52.3 kph in the first hour of racing) and split the peloton into four groups after only 5 km. The first group consisted of about 45 riders, including Mads Pedersen, Michael Reihs and Alex Kirsch. The groups behind came back together despite the wind and rain, but when the peloton was only some 20 seconds behind, 17 riders took off and formed the new lead group. Again, Pedersen was very attentive and had no problems following strong classics riders such as Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha), Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team), Luke Rowe (Team Sky), and Lieuwe Westra (Astana Pro Team).

 

On the Tenbosse climb Kristoff, Westra, Rowe, and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team) attacked. Pedersen organised the chase and almost brought them back, but then the quartet got away and stretched the gap to 37 seconds. Also, Kirsc rode away from the peloton on the Tenbosse, but was quickly caught again.

 

In Geraardsbergen the peloton had almost caught the chasing group with Pedersen. Then the young Dane put in an attack on the Muur and took up the chase on his own. He quickly caught Rowe who had dropped back from the lead group due to a mechanical, but the front three were too strong to be caught on the final 14 km. Alexander Kristoff won the stage, but Pedersen and Rowe could hold off the peloton, and Pedersen reached the finish in fourth place, 29 seconds behind the Norwegian.

 

Sports Director André Steensen was thrilled: “This was a fantastic stage for us, we rode on par with the strongest teams. The boys worked together brilliantly and helped Mads and Alex at the important points. Mads did a great turn on the Muur that showed his potential. I have no doubts that he’ll become a great classics rider in the future – after all, he is only 20 years old. Alex also rode well and loyally, neutralising groups that wanted to chase down Mads from the peloton. This is not only a big result for Mads, but also a great show of teamwork. We want to continue in this spirit!”

 

Luke Rowe after late puncture: Gutted, yeah, that hits the nail on the head

Luke Rowe suffered an unfortunate puncture at a crucial moment on the first stage of Three Days of De Panne, but still recovered to finish fifth.

 

The Welshman had attacked out of a small lead group with 30 kilometres to go and been joined by Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko (both Astana) before he was cruelly hit by a puncture climbing the Muur which ruled him out of stage-winning contention with 18km left.

 

Rowe battled valiantly to make it back to the lead group but faced a struggle to catch the powerful trio, with Kristoff eventually sprinting to the win. Having been joined by Mads Pedersen (Stolting Service Group) he came home fifth, 29 seconds back, although still seven seconds ahead of the reduced peloton.

 

Speaking to TeamSky.com back at the bus, Rowe was understandably disappointed, but praised the way the team had ridden.

 

He said: "Gutted, yeah, that hits the nail on the head. From the get go we rode well today, we always had guys on the front - the race was split right from kilometre zero and we had pretty much the whole team on the front. Everything went perfectly, we always had numbers, right up until that puncture."

 

Once the four-man break had formed, Rowe agreed that he looked comfortable.

 

"I felt pretty strong," he added. "I think Westra was the strongest in the break, he was pulling some really strong turns, but I felt pretty comfortable - well, as comfortable as you can expect!

 

"Once again, I'm just gutted to puncture at what was probably the worst moment in the entire race. It was right at the bottom of the Muur, so as soon as I got the fresh wheel I went absolutely flat out up there because I figured if I hadn't closed the gap by the top I'd probably never close it. I sprinted up that in a do or die effort."

 

He couldn't quite make it, but he remained philosophical about the mechanical issue. 

 

"It's part of the sport. There's no one to blame, no one behind it, it could happen to any rider, in any race, at any moment. Unfortunately it was me today, but that's life. I'll crack on and hope for better luck in the future."

 

The team looked strong from the outset in Belgium, with Danny van Poppel taking the first two intermediate sprints having made it into a significant early move with Rowe and Christian Knees.

 

The break was 17 men strong and keeping the peloton at bay, with the gap settling at around a minute midway through the race.

 

Although a few riders started to slip back from the group the gap remained consistent - and then Rowe, Kristoff, Westra and Lutsenko went on the attack.

 

The four men looked very strong but it was a story of what might have been for Rowe when he was hit by the puncture. With team cars diverted around the famous Muur he had to take mechanical assistance from a neutral support motorbike, and by the time he was back riding the three men had disappeared up the road.

 

Jasper De Buyst abandons 3 Days of De Panne

Lotto Soudal had Pim Ligthart in sixth place but lost Jasper De Buyst who abandoned.

 

 “Not my day, was ok untill i got really cold. Went for extra clothing and never made it back to the front,” he tweeted. “Didn't felt really 100% recovered after a hard Gent Wevelgem, E3 and dwars door Vlaanderen.”

 

Southeast team lose four riders on disastrous day in De Panne

Team Southeast – Venezuela achieved a 7th place in the 1st stage of Driedaagse De Panne with Manuel Belletti who confirmed his brilliant condition as the best Italian rider on the finish line at the end of a very hard and unlucky day for the team.

 

Four riders didn’t finish. The team lost Jakub Mareczko and Mirko Tedeschi due of sickness, Andrea Dal Col after a bad day and Eugert Zhupa after a crash with 60km to go.

 

The Albanian rider went to the Hospital in Zottegem where the diagnosis was a broken collarbone that will make him skip Flanders of Sunday.

 

Juraj Sagan takes over from Peter with strong showing in De Panne

Juraj Sagan raced to eighth place on the opening day of the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, a tough, windy 198.2km stage taking the riders from the coastal town of De Panne down to Zottegem over 11 Hellingen, including two ascents of the infamous Muur van Geraardsbergen.

 

The six Tinkoff riders starting the race lined up under grey, threatening skies, with the atmosphere at the start one of high emotion with a minute's silence following the passing of two riders from the peloton in the past days. But once the flag was dropped the thoughts soon turned to the road ahead with a fast and frantic pace set splitting the peloton into groups in the crosswinds from the off.

 

The situation on the road was constantly changing with crosswinds causing havoc in the bunch, and splitting the race into groups, but Tinkoff's leader heading into the race, Maciej Bodnar, started strongly making a front selection before eventually slipping back into the groups behind, paying the price for a tough start.

 

Sport Director at the race, Lars Michaelsen spoke of the hectic start to the race. "Today's stage was nearly 200km of racing on tough Flandrian roads, starting with a 16km neutral section and then straight from the gun the race split in crosswinds and echelons making for hard work for everyone. For a time we had Bodnar in the front group but he ran out of legs and lost contact with the group. In the group behind we had Juraj Sagan and Nikolay Trusov and they were able to stay with this group as it thinned down throughout the day."


 The race steadied behind a leading group of 14, and into the final 50km these leaders had just over a minute's advantage on a reunited chasing bunch. The situation remained stable with the leaders holding a minute into the final 30km before the decisive move came at the front. Four riders broke clear and soon pulled ahead, being reduced to three that would eventually dispute the stage win amongst themselves, while behind the reduced peloton kept chasing hard, thinning further over the second ascent of the Muur van Geerardsbergen before racing into Zottegem to sprint out fifth place, behind the three leaders and two more who managed to stay clear. A strong sprint from Sagan saw him take third from this main group, 36 seconds behind the stage winner and race leader, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

 

"It was a hard, hard day for everyone out there today," said a tired Juraj Sagan after the finish. "From the start the race was broken in crosswinds, after the first kilometres. Bodnar tried hard up front but I'm not too sure what happened as it was really hectic. I was behind the break with Trusov, and at the end I managed to get third from the bunch. Coming into the finish there were some turns but everyone was really tired so it was hard. I'm happy with my result but we came here looking for a GC result which will be difficult now. We will refocus and look at the coming days - we are in Belgium and anything can happen."

 

Michaelsen concluded by saying:

 

"Juraj taking third in the bunch sprint was a real positive note for us today. We're out of the GC fight with Bodnar now, so for the coming days we will look to seize the opportunities as they come - we have guys here that can sprint and so there will be chances for us to shine."

 

Scott Thwaites targets top result in De Panne

BORA – ARGON 18 had no rider in the front group group and Scott Thwaites, Jan Bárta, Andreas Schillinger and Lukas Pöstlberger hit the tarmac, Lukas Pöstlberger even 3 times!

 

Thwaites finished in 13th place and is still in a very good position to fight for another top ten result in the next days.

 

“This was a frantic start with lots of wind. We had Matzka and Bauhaus in the first big group of 45 men, but then missed the split to the 16 riders. The leading group was very strong, therefore even Etixx-Quickstep couldn’t close the gap. Scott was well placed in the end, crossing the line in 13th position. We will see how the stage tomorrow develops, with winds this can be a hard one again. Maybe there is another selection then. That could be an opportunity for Scott to gain some seconds on the good time trillaists. From his position a lot is still possible,” sports director Enrico Poitschke said.

 

Sacha Modolo shows his talent on the Belgian cobbles

 

Sprinters Marko Kump and Sache Modolo gave LAMPRE-MERIDA the most interesting signals in the Belgian race.
The Slovenian athlete was not caught out when the bunch was slit in three parts: Kump stayed in the front group with 44 other riders while Ferrari, Modolo, Pibernik and Zurlo were in the first chasing group.
 

Meanwhile, after 40 km in the race, Feng who tenaciously started the competition despite suffering from the flu, surrendered and quit the race, and the same did Xu.

 

16 riders counter-attacked from the front group. Unfortunately Kump could not be with them and he slowly got absorbed.
 

Modolo managed to stay in the 33-rider group that sprinted for sixth. However he could not do a good sprint, crossing the finish line in 21st place.

 

Loic Vliegen: Yesterday I lost two friends so I wanted to do something for them

It was a tough opening stage to Driedaagse de Panne-Koksijde which saw Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) take the win in a battle with Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana).

 

A reduced peloton, including Stefan Küng, Dylan Teuns, Loïc Vliegen and Rick Zabel, crossed the line 36 seconds behind Kristoff.

 

After a solid ride, Loïc Vliegen goes into Stage 2 with the King of the Mountains jersey. Vliegen sported two black armbands today, one for Antoine Demoitié and one for Daan Myngheer, and vowed to ride in memory of his two friends.

 

“This day was a really difficult day for me because I lost two friends yesterday so I wanted to do something for them. From the kilometer 0, I was in the front group and I thought that the best thing that I could do was take the KOM jersey and I did. So I’m really happy to have taken it for them,” Vliegen said after the stage.

 

“I was feeling really good today and my form is good. It was a really cold stage so I didn’t eat or drink too much, so in the end I was feeling it. But the form is good so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

 

A breakaway of 17 riders formed mid-race, including Tom Bohli, Taylor Phinney, Loïc Vliegen and Rick Zabel. It was from this group that Kristoff, Westra and Lutsenko managed to attack and establish a gap.

 

“The team moved in a fantastic way. In the first 40 kilometers there were echelons everywhere but we had all but one of our guys in the front group,” Sports Director Max Sciandri said.

 

“I think everyone did a great job. We don’t always look at the final result. Obviously we are here to win races but a race like this is a learning process, especially for these young guys, so I’m really happy with the way they worked and moved together as a team.”

 

Strong Luke Durbridge picks up bonus seconds in De Panne

Luke Durbridge and Jens Keukeleire spent over 130kilometres of stage one ofDriedaasge De Panne in the breakaway, with Durbridge crossing the line in the front group keeping alive his hopes of a result in the overall General Classification.

 

The two ORICA-GreenEDGE riders were prominent in the group from which the winning attack finally formed. Sports director Laurenzo Lapage was pleased with how the stage unfolded.

 

“It was a really hard day with attacks from the start and strong winds,” said Lapage. “Luke (Durbridge) and Jens (Keukeleire) did well to get into the break after 65kilometres and keep working for so long.

 

“We wanted to get Luke in a good position, that was the plan from the start and the team did an excellent job to make sure that happened.”

 

“Luke raced intelligently, especially in picking up those mountains points,” continued Lapage. “He didn’t quite have the legs to go with the last attack on the Berendries but we are still in there.

 

“Tomorrow will be another hard stage, it’s a long day with a few climbs towards the end and good positioning will be very important.”

 

After picking up valuable mountains points Durbridge sits in sixth place on the provisional general classification, 42seconds down on stage one winner Alexander Kristoff (Team-Katusha).

 

Johan Le Bon drops out of GC contention

The FDJ team had a complicated day.

 

"It started even before the real start was given, explains sports director Frédéric Guesdon. "Yoann Offredo was sick before the start. He took the start but abandoned. The race was fast at breakneck speed, there were echelons. Marc Fournier was behind in a group that police never got back. He left the race too. We started with 7, we are no more than 5!"

 

The peloton was in pieces and only Olivier Le Gac managed to stay in the first echelon before suffering a puncture. He managed to return before a regrouping took place.

 

"Johan le Bon had a flat tire. A big effort byOlivier Le Gac allowed him to get back but they lost energy (Le Bon finished 23 seconds behind the peloton). Murilo Fischer broke a wheel, changed bike and broke his brakes, he did not see the race leaders again. Youngsters Daniel Hoelgaard and Marc Sarreau were not bad but logically lost time in the finale. It was a difficult first stage for us."

 

ONE Pro Cycling come up short in De Panne

On the start line a one minute silence was held in memory of Antoine Demoitie and Dan Myngheer, two well known professional Belgian cyclists who tragically lost their lives this week. ONE Pro Cycling wore black arm bands on the sleeve of their jerseys during the race as a mark of respect for their friends from the peloton.

 

During the 16km neutral zone Chris Opie was involved in a crash, which saw him struggle to get back to the peloton, eventually rejoining just as the flag dropped the high intensity soon saw him distanced. As soon as the flag dropped the pace of the peloton increased and didn’t ease for the remainder of the stage averaging 48.5km per hour. Just 30km in and the pace saw the bunch split into four groups.

 

Shortly after the split Martin Mortensen required a bike change from the team car following the second crash of the race. Working hard to get back into the peloton Mortensen made his way into the second group joining Kristian House, Hayden McCormick, Joshua Hunt, Steele Von Hoff, Matthew Goss and Marcin Bialoblocki. With 5km to the first climb of the day, everything came back together.

 

With 5 ONE Pro Cycling riders remaining in the peloton it was important to sit tight, recover as much as possible and think about positioning during the two finishing laps. Going into De Muur for the first time the peloton once again split into small groups on the cobbled climb with the break remaining at 1 minute. The peloton never recovered after this and saw multiple groups of riders in succession making their way to the finish. 20km to go and two official climbs remaining including the second effort up De Muur, Kristian House and Hayden McCormick were still positioned in the second chase group. McCormick and House led their chase group to the line as they sprinted home, shortly followed by Martin Mortensen and Marcin Bialoblocki.

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