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In a photo finish after a fast stage in the hilly Limburg province, Greipel held off Hofland to win the bunch sprint on stage 3 of the Ster ZLM Toer; the German extended his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

ANDRÉ GREIPEL

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EDWARD THEUNS

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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MORENO HOFLAND

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STER ZLM TOUR

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19.06.2015 @ 18:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) again confirmed that he is fully ready to target more stage wins in the Tour de France when he made it two in a row in today’s third stage of the Ster ZLM Toer. After a fast stage in the hilly Limburg province, it all came down to a bunch sprint and here the German held off Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) in a photo finish and so extended his overall lead over Victor Campenaerts (Topsport Vlaanderen) to 12 seconds.

 

The 2015 season has not been very successful for André Greipel who deliberately raced a little bit les in the early part of the season. Trying to be fresher for the classics, the German skipped the Tour Down Under and the Tours of Qatar and Oman, meaning that he had fewer victories than usual in the early part of the season.

 

However, now the German is back at 100% and at the moment he is the most successful rider in the peloton. He may only have won a single stage in the Giro d’Italia when he returned to the race for the first time since 2008 but since he resumed competition he has been unstoppable.

 

Greipel returned to racing in the Tour de Luxembourg where he won two stages and this week he has continued his run of success in the sprint festival at the Ster ZLM Toer which is traditional final test race for the Tour de France.

 

After a solid top 10 in the prologue, Greipel showed his strength in yesterday’s first road stage when he first survived the selection in the crosswinds and then took a dominant win in the bunch sprint after a great lead-out. Today he made it two in a row by winning the third stage of the race.

 

However, it was no easy feat for the German to get the chance to sprint for the win. The stage took place in the hilly Limburg province and included six climbs known from the Amstel Gold Race in the first half. The peloton took the opportunity to ride aggressively in the hilly terrain and they covered a massive 47km in the first hour despite the tough challenges.

 

The many attacks allowed a strong 10-rider group with the likes of Iljo Keisse and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) to get clear and Lotto Soudal had to work hard all day to bring them back. They made use of the flat second half to bring the final three survivors Keisse, Meersman and Roy Curvers (Giant-Alpecin) back with less than 5km to go.

 

However, the hard chase had left Lotto Soudal with less ressources for the lead-out and so Greipel had to improvise a bit more in the sprint. Instead, it was Topsport Vlaanderen who dominated the finale but Greipel still managed to start his sprint from fourth position.

 

The lack of a lead-out made it a much closer sprint than yesterday but Greipel still turned out to be the fastest. In a photo finish, he held off Moreno Hofland while Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) confirmed his good condition by taking third.

 

With the win Greipel extended his overall lead over Victor Campenaerts (Topsport Vlaanderen) to 12 seconds as second placed Danny van Poppel (Trek) was dropped. However, he faces a tough challenge in tomorrow’s queen stage which is held in the Ardennes. The riders face a total of six categorized climbs, including the Col du Rosier and the Cote de la Redoute. In the end, they do two laps of a finishing circuit that includes a tough climb and has an uphill finish. However, Greipel has managed to be in contention in the uphill sprint in the past and it won’t be impossible for him to defend his position.

 

A mini Amstel Gold Race

After yesterday’s flat stage, the terrain was significantly hillier in stage 3 which was held in the Limburg province and brought the riders over 190.5km around the city of Buchten. The first half was very hilly as it included no less than 6 climbs known from the Amstel Gold Race, including the Cauberg and Eyserbosweg. However, the second half was descending or flat and the stage finished with 2 laps of an 8.3km finishing circuit, meaning that a reduced bunch sprint was the expected outcome.

 

It was a cloudy, dry day when the riders gathered for the start in Buchten and all riders who finished yesterday’s stage were present. They got the race off to a nervous beginning as riders already fought hard for position in the neutral zone.

 

Keisse on the offensive

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) managed to rejoin the peloton after a mechanical just before the riders got to the official start and he had to dig deep in the first part of the race as the pace was very fast. After 8km, no one had managed to escape and riders had already been dropped.

 

Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) took off in a solo attack but he was brought back as it started to rain. Meanwhile, Maurits Lammertink (Roompot) worked his way back to the peloton after a puncture.

 

Lots of attacks

The attacking continued for a long time in the hilly terrain and this was too much for Niek Boom (Babydump) who was the first to get dropped and decided to leave the race. After 21km of racing, it briefly seemed like the beak had been formed when 7 riders got clear but they were brought back before the riders could be identified.

 

Connor McConvey (3M) was the second rider to leave the race while three riders took off. They were joined by another trio but just before they hit the Cauberg, they were brought back.

 

Ciolek on the attack

Rob Ruijgh (Vastgoedservice) attacked on the famous ascent and led Zico Waeytens (Giant-Alpecin) and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18) over the top while several riders got dropped, including Dion Beubekoom.

 

Ruijgh was brought back after the climb while his teammate Sander Cordeel suffered a very untimely mechanical. The next rider to try was Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) but he had no luck wither.

 

Kluge takes off

Roger Kluge (IAM) tried as the peloton entered Maastricht while Stefan Poutsma (Jo Piels) took off in pursuit. The German did a good job to extend his advantage to 15 seconds as they went up the Bemelerberg. Keisse attacked again and crested the summit in second position while Poutsma was third across the line.

 

Tom Devriendt (Wanty) and Sam Lennertz (Vastgoedservice) were the next riders to abandon while a chase group formed behind Kluge. Keisse, Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep), Roy Curvers (Giant-Alpecin), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18), Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka), Jetse Bol (De Rijke), Poutsma, Jasper Hamelink and Twan Castelijns caught the German to form a 10-rider front grup that had an advantage of 35 seconds.

 

Bad luck for Kluge

As the peloton took a natural break, the gap went out to 1.15. At this point, Kluge had extremely bad luck as he suffered a mechanical and he was never able to make it back to the front group.

 

At the 60km mark, the gap had gone out to 2.05 while Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) worked his way back to the peloton after a puncture. Castelijns was first at the top of the Loorberg, leading Poutsman and Meersman across the line.

 

KOM points for Meersman

At the top, the gap was 3.15 and when Meersman beat Castelijns and Bol in the KOM sprint on the Camerig, it had gone out to 3.50. The order of passage was the same as they went up the Gulperberg at a time when the gap was 4.05. Here Sbaragli was briefly distanced but he managed to rejoin the peloton.

 

Meersman also beat Bol and Poutsma in the final KOM sprint on the Eyserbosweg and here Sbaragli was again dropped. Meanwhile, Roy Eefting was disqualified for holding onto his team car.

 

The chase gets organized

With the climbing out of the way, the peloton upped the pace and they had brought the gap down to 3.05 at the 100km mark. At this point, Jo Piels sprinter Jeff Vermeulen left the race.

 

Sbaragli had rejoined the front group and instead it was Castelijns who got dropped when they went up an uncategorized climb. He fell back to the peloton that was now just 1.55 behind the leaders.

 

Lots of punctures

Both Hamelink and Keisse punctured out of the front group but they both managed to rejoin the group after Bol had beaten Poutsma and Konrad in the first intermediate sprint. At this point, the gap was only 1.20 with 63km remaining.

 

Meersman and Keisse decided to make a team attack and they got a gap. Meanwhile, Hamelink was suffering as he was getting distanced from the escape.

 

Lotto Soudal in control

The front septet got back together and had managed to extend their advantage to 1.40. Meanwhile, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Oscar Riesebeek and Beukeboom abandoned.

 

In the peloton, Lotto Soudal had taken control but they were losing ground. As it started to rain again with 40km to go, the gap had gone out to 2.30.

 

The break splits up

Lotto Soudal upped the pace and as they got some help from Roompot, the gap was coming down. As they entered the final 25km, it was only 1.25 and when Keisse beat Bol and Curvers in the second intermediate sprint at the first passage of the finish line it was 40 seconds.

 

The gap was rapidly coming down and as they entered the final 20km, it was only 20 seconds. This was the signal for Keisse, Meersman and Curvers to attack and even though Bol desperately tried to join them, the rest of the group was caught.

 

Greipel takes the win

The front trio still had an advantage of 17 seconds as they entered the final lap. However, they had no chance against the speeding peloton and with less than 5km to go, they were brought back.

 

Timothy Stevens (Vastgoedservice) tried a solo attack but he was quickly brought back. It was Lotto Soudal in control before Tospport Vlaanderen took over as they passed the flamme rouge. However, Greipel was in well-placed in fourth position and he turned out to be the fastest in the sprint.

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