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Despite a very strong sprint from the German, Sagan held Greipel off by centimetres to win the sprint on the tough stage 4 of the Eneco Tour; Kristoff completed the podium and Sagan moved into the lead

Photo: Tinkoff / BettiniPhoto (Graham Watson)

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ANDRÉ GREIPEL

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BINCKBANK TOUR

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PETER SAGAN

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22.09.2016 @ 17:14 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) continued his impressive autumn campaign and took an important step towards overall victory in the Eneco Tour when he made it two in a row on the fourth stage of the Dutch-Belgian race. After an infight with Arnaud Demare (FDJ), he came around Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and held off a fast-finishing André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) to beat the German in a close photo finish. With the win, the world champion moves into the race lead with a 7-second advantage over Rohan Dennis (BMC).

 

With Il Lombardia being held on a mountainous course, the Eneco Tour offers Peter Sagan a final chanc to gain enough points to beat Nairo Quintana in the battle for the WorldTour crown. However, the Slovakian faces an uphill battle as the inclusion of a team time trial will make things difficult for the world champion.

 

Right from the start of the race, it has been evident that Sagan has to score as many bonus seconds as possible and with a third place in stage 1 and a surprise win in stage 3, he couldn’t have wished for a better start. In the final part of the race, the terrain gets harder and more suited the versatile Slovakian and he will have several more chances to gain time.

 

Today he had his first opportunity when the riders faced their first climbs on a tough finishing circuit on stage 4 which could be regarded as a mini version of Brabantse Pijl. Sagan didn’t hesitate for a moment and made use of the harder nature of the route to make it two in a row in a very close battle with André Greipel.

 

The early break was caught with more than 60km to go and this set the scene for a very aggressive and fast race. This turned it into a tough race and Sagan excelled in those conditions. When it came down to the expected sprint, he positioned himself perfectly and after a small infight with Arnaud Demare, he managed to hold Greipel off in a photo finish despite the fact that the German was clearly the fastest.

 

The most promising move was formed just after a group with Rohan Dennis was brought back halfway through the first lap of the 32km circuit that included some early cobbles and the Alsemberg and Bruine Put climbs. Dmitiy Gruzdev and Andriy Grivko attacked. And as the peloton slowed down and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff) suffered a puncture, the Astana pair built an advantage of 20 seconds.

 

Pavel Brutt took control for Tinkoff to keep the Astana pair under control before Gruzdev beat Grivko in the Primus sprint. McNally tried to score more points but was beaten by Amaury Capiot (Topsport). Jonas Rickaert (Topsport) was fifth

 

As they approached the penultimate passage of the line, the fight for position started and it was Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) who led the peloton onto the final lap and the cobbles. The German set a fast pace to string the group out but the gap was still 25 seconds when they hit the tarmac again.

 

Laurens De Vreese (Astana) hit the deck in a turn before Jasper Stuyven (Trek), Tom Leezer (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Benoot attacked. Sky shut it down and then Luke Rowe took control for the British team. Yoann Offredo (FDJ) led the group over the cobbles and then Martin and Tom Dumoulin took off as soon as they were back on the tarmac.

 

The two chasers soon got an advantage of 15 seconds and this forced BMC to react. Daniel Oss hit the front but as he didn’t get any help, the two TT specialists increased their advantage. With 20km to go, they were just 10 seconds behind the leaders and 20 seconds ahead of the peloton.

 

BMC seemed to be under pressure until Stefan Küng came to the fore to lend Oss a hand. Dimension Data also took their share of the work but the gap was still 30 seconds when they hit the Alsemberg for the final time. Here Katusha started to work too.

 

The two chasers made use of the climb to reduce their deficit to 10 seconds while the workers in the peloton started to blow up. With 15km to go, all the work was left to Nathan Haas for Dimension Data and he could only keep the gap at 30 seconds. Manuel Quinziato lent him a hand for BMC but it was only when Cannondale hit the front with Sebastian Langeveld  that the gap started to come down.

 

The front duo hit the Bruine Put where the Grivko led Gruzdev across the line in all the three sprints in the Golden Kilometre. Martin was first in the first two sprints but a big surge from Cannondale brought the two chasers back just after the penultimate sprint.

 

Jasper Stuyven (Trek) made an immediate counterattack to take third in the final sprint before Dries Devenyns (IAM) joined him. However, the latter was soon dropped and it was only Stuyven who managed to get across to the leaders.

 

The trio hit the final 10km with a 10-second advantage but after Martin had taken another turn, the chase got organized. Lotto Soudal and Dimension Data hit the front and Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens and Jay Thomson worked hard to keep the gap at 10 seconds during the next 5km.

 

Frederik Backaert (Wanty) made a failed attack before Wellens, Lars Bak and Thomson went back to work. The trio slowly pegged the break back. With 3km to go, the gap was almost nullified and this prompted Stuyven to make a solo attack. While the Astana riders sat up, he managed to keep an advantage of 5 seconds.

 

Ben Swift hit the front for Sky and managed to bring Stuyven back as they hit the final 2km. Katusha took control with Marco Haller, Alexandr Porsev, Michael Mørkøv and Alexander Kristoffer but they gave room for Yoann Offredo (FDJ) who took a massive turn with 1500m to go.

 

Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange) hit the deck in an incident that took Marcel Kittel out of contention before Lotto Soudal tried to do the lead-out with Jens Debusschere under the flamme rouge. However, he had lost Greipel and instead it was Ramon Sinkeldam (Giant-Alpecin) who tried to set John Degenkolb up for the win.

 

Alexander Kristoff latched onto Sinkeldam’s wheel and then launched his sprint while Sagan and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) fought for his wheel. The Slovakian won the battle and then came around the Norwegian. However, Greipel suddenly came flying from far back and he almost managed to pass the world champion. No one dared to celebrate as they crossed the line but Sagan was ultimately given the win, with Kristoff completing the podium.

 

With the win, Sagan moved into the overall lead with a 7-second advantage over Rohan Dennis. However, he is likely to lose the position in tomorrow’s crucial team time trial where BMC are the favourites. The riders will tackle 20.9km on a illy course that includes two tough climbs in the Limburg region.

 

A tough circuit

After yesterday’s sprint stage, the terrain got hardder in stage 4 which brought the riders over 202km from Aalter to Sint-Pieters-Leeuw. After early passages of the Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat cobbles, the riders ended the race by doing two laps of a 32km circuit. It included two early cobblestone sections and the climbs of Alsemberg and Bruine Put. The latter came with 13.4km to go and from there flat roads led to the final 4km which were slightly uphill.

 

It was a fantastic sunny day when the riders gathered for the start, and unsurprisingly it was three of the contenders for the sprint competition who attacked early. Almost immediately from the start, Brian Van Goethem (Roompot), Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport) and Mark McNally (Wanty) got clear together with Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot), and after 9.4 kilometers the quartet could fight for points in the first Primus sprint. Here, Van Lerberghe beat McNally, van Ginneken and Van Goethem, while Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen) secured the last point from the peloton.

 

Boonen abandons

The four quartet quickly got a lead of more than five minutes after a first hour during which 41.4km were completed. While the peloton still took it easy, Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) was involved in a crash which unfortunately forced him to abandon.

 

The gap remained at 4-5 minutes while the peloton tackled the first cobbles where Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal) took off in pursuit. They managed to reduce the gap to 2.50, but were quickly brought back.

 

The break is caught

After 100km of racing, the gap was still 3.08, but suddenly the peloton accelerated significantly. Everything suddenly got very nervous, and in a very short time the gap dropped to less than a minute. The conditions were too much for Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), who was the next rider to leave the race.

 

The gap continued to fall as they approached the first passage  of the finish line, and for some time the breakaway stayed only 25 seconds ahead of a field that slowed down not to catch them too early. After a brief acceleration from Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) 65km from the finish, they finally gave up, and thus things were back together just before they crossed the line.

 

Dumoulin attacks

Tom Bohli took control for BMC and set the pace on the first cobbled sector before he neutralized an attack from Georg Preidler.  As they hit the second cobblestone section, Marco Haller took control for Katusha and he strung out the group. That set Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) up for an attack as soon as they returned to the tarmac. Christopher Juul (Orica-BikeExchange) joined him before Lars Peter Nordhaug (Sky), Youcef Reguigui (Dimension Data) and Haller made the junction. Finally, Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) and Daniel Oss (BMC) also made it across and the Austrian went straight to the front to keep the septet alive. Meanwhile, the selection started in the peloton as Roy Jans (Wanty) punctured and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Caleb Ewan (Orica-BikeExchange) were dropped.

 

Tinkoff had missed the move so Maciej Bodnar went to the front to bring the break back and he quickly neutralized the dangerous move. Juul tried to attack again before Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) and Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) gave it a go. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Juul, Danny Van Poppel (Sky), Boy Van Poppel (Trek), Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Juul and Frison were also active but no one could get clear.

 

Oliveira gets clear

The peloton was still together as they hit the Alsemberg for the first time and it was Andriy Grivko (Astana) who tried to attack. Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) countered and he was the first rider to get a small advantage. Nico Denz (Ag2r) joined him and while Andrea Guardini (Astana) was dropped from the peloton, they worked hard to build a bigger gap. It had gone out to 10 seconds when Juul, Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana), Nathan Haas (Dimension Data), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff) and Frison took off in pursuit. However, they were brought back as they hit the Bruine Put climb for the first time.

 

A group with the likes of Oss, Haas, Wellens, Brutt, Gruzdev and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale) caught the leaders on the climb but as they headed down the descent, it all came back together. Moments later 20 riders with the likes of Gruzdev, Haas, Boasson Hagen Debussschere, Felline, Grivko, Brutt, Van Genechten, Gastauer, Soupe, Stybar, Kristoff, Swift, Bono, Langeveld and Dennis got a small advantage and when Haas realized that Boasson Hagen was there, he went straight to the front to work for his leader. Tinkoff were again on the defensive but quickly managed to bring the group back. Grivko and Gruzdev then took off and from there the exciting finale unfolded.

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