Danny Van Poppel (Trek) continued his rapid rise through the professional ranks when he won today's short 2.55km evening prologue in the Tour de Luxembourg. Benefiting from improving weather conditions, the Dutchman was the only rider to cover the distance in less than 4 minutes and beat local riders Jean-Pierre Drucker (Wanty) and Alex Kirsch (Leopard) into the minor positions to become the first leader of the five-day race.
Known as a sprinter, 20-year-old Danny Van Poppel relished the chance to use his explosive power in today's short, hilly 2.55km of the Tour de Luxembourg and the young Dutchman again showed that he is a man for the future when he took a comfortable victory on the opening day of the five-day race. Being a late starter, he powered around the course in a time of 3.58 and proved to be a lot faster than all his rivals.
Van Poppel was the only rider to do cover the distance in less than four minutes while local rider Jean-Pierre Drucker was 4 seconds slover in second. Young Alex Kirsch from the contintental Leopard team took a surprise third, 1 seconds further adrift.
The prologue in the Luxembourgish capital traditionally opens the national tour and is a very explosive affair. A flat opening part leads to a short, steep cobbled climb that suits the really explosive riders. In the last few years it has been dominated by Jimmy Engoulvent who has won it several times but this year the Frenchman and his Europcar team was absent from the start list.
That opened the door for Van Poppel to take his second win since joining Trek at the start of the year, the Dutchman having also won a stage in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen. Van Poppel was partly helped by a change in weather conditions that saw most of the riders do the stage under torrential rain while the later starters had nice, sunny conditions.
Van Poppel now takes his 4-second lead over Drucker into tomorrow's first stage of the race. Like most stages in the Tour de Luxembourg, it is a rolling affair but it ends with two laps of a mostly flat 18.2km finishing circuit. A bunch sprint is expected and to make it two in a row Van Poppel has to beat no less of a figure than André Greipel who has set his sights on another win in the Tour de Luxembourg in the opening road stage.
A traditional opener
The 74th Tour de Luxembourg had its classic beginning as the race kicked off with the traditional 2.55km prologue in the eponymous capital of the country. After a flat opening part, the stage ended with a steep cobbled climb that suited the explosive riders.
The first rider down the ramp was Phil Bauhaus (Stölting) who set a mark of 4.25. The young German didn't get much time to enjoy his lead though ad Sebastien Delfosse (Wallonie) went 11 seconds faster.
Herklotz lowers the mark
The Belgian led the race for 10 minutes before the talented German Silvio Herklotz (Stölting) made another impressive showing, shaving 3 seconds off the best time. A rain started to fall, Herklotz could start to hope for a surprise win as none of the seasoned professionals like prologue specialist Greg Henderson (Lotto) or 2011 winner Linus Gerdemann (MTN) managed to beat him but he saw Marcel Sieberg (Lotto) go close, setting a time that was less than a second slower than the German's.
Herklotz' dream was crushed when Adrien Petit (Cofidis) went 1 second faster. Moments later Andy Schleck (Trek) an encouraging time in a discipline that certainly doesn't suit the Luxembourgish climber.
Lemoine with new best time
Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Gregory Rast (Trek) both had fine rides but it was Michael Mørkøv (Tinkoff) who put Petit under pressure. The Dane stopped the clock in a time that was just 1 second too slow to slot into third while moments later Sean De Bie (Lotto) set a time that was ultimately good enough for 12th.
Petit got bested by his teammate Cyril Lemoine who went one second faster but he Frenchman didn't even lead catch his breath before Van Poppel had blasted across the line in a time that was 8 seconds faster. Kirsch did a surprisingly good ride to slot into second but was relegated to third by his compatriot Drucker.
Andrey Solomennikov (Rusvelo )slotted into 9th while all eyes were on local hero Frank Schleck (Trek) who did a decent ride to take 33rd. Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo) could only manage 9th and as Greipel - the final starter - was far off the mark, Van Popple could celebrate his second professional victory.
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