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Having been perfectly positioned on Kittel’s wheel, Viviani came around the German to win the bunch sprint on stage 2 of the 3 Days of De Panne; Kristoff had to settle for third but increased his lead











30.03.2016 @ 17:18 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Elia Viviani (Sky) proved that he doesn’t have to fear anyone in the pure bunch sprints when he claimed victory in the sprint royale on the second stage of the 3 Days of De Panne. Having been positioned perfectly on Marcel Kittel’s (Etixx-QuickStep) wheel, he came around the German in the final 100m to take a very prestigious win. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) picked up 4 bonus seconds by taking third and so extended his overall lead.


Elia Viviani has beaten most of the best sprinters in the world but one name was still missing from the list of important riders to beat. Until today, he had never beaten Marcel Kittel in a head-to-head battle and he has done nothing to hide that this was a big goal for him.


Viviani won the second stage of the Dubai Tour earlier this year but back then a late crash had taken Kittel out of contention. Hence, he was still without a big win over the German when he lined up for this week’s 3 Days of De Panne which usually has one of the most competitive sprint fields. In fact, one can argue that the only big name missing from the list of pure sprinters in the Belgian race is Mark Cavendish whom Viviani beat at last year’s Dubai Tour.


Viviani grabbed his first opportunity to beat his German rival as he took one of the most impressive wins of his career in the first bunch sprint of the race on day 2. After great work from his teammates, Viviani was dropped off on Kittel’s wheel by Andy Fenn and stayed there until he came around the German with 100m to go.


The long stage had been expected to be the scene of a crosswind battle but that never materialized. Hence, everything was set for a big bunch sprint when the peloton crossed the line for the penultimate time to start the final lap of the 11.2km finishing circuit.


That’s when Sky first showed their intentions when Christian Knees took controlled followed by Ian Stannard, Danny Van Poppel, Fenn and Viviani. Stannard took over while Etixx-QuickStep moved up next to the, with Guillaume Van Keirsbulck setting the pace. Van Poppel was next in the Sky train and hit the front with 7km to go. He won the battle for the front position as they hit a narrow road where Knees took one final turn for the British team.


When the riders returned to bigger roads, Etixx-QuickStep, Lotto Soudal and Katusha moved up next to them. It was a big fight between the four trains but again Van Poppel won the battle, hitting the front with Fenn and Viviani on his wheel.


With 3km to go, Etixx-QuickStep proved their strength when Van Keirsbulck, Lukasz Wisniowski, Tony Martin, Maximilano Richeze, Fabio Sabatini and Kittel hit the front. Wisniowski took over and held off an attempt from Lotto Soudal to come around.


Fenn did a great job to position Viviani on Kittel’s wheel when Martin took over inside the final 2km. He led the blue train onto the finishing straight and then it was Richeze who led the group under the flamme rouge.


Race leader Alexander Kristoff had been far back but was now moving forward. His teammate Michael Mørkøv came from behind and hit the front before realizing that he had lost his teammates. Instead, it was Jacopo Guarnieri who moved up with Kristoff on his wheel.


It became a big battle between the lead-out men in the final 500m, with Fabio Sabatini and Guarnieri sprinting against each other before Kittel and Kristoff launched their efforts. However, it was immediately clear that the German had the upper hand as the Norwegian only drifted backwards.


Kittel looked like he would take a comfortable win but suddenly Viviani emerged from his wheel. The Italian managed to come around to narrowly win the stage. Kristoff crossed the line in third, with daylight separating him and fourth placed Amaury Capiot (Topsport Vlaanderen).


Third place was enough for Kristoff to score four bonus seconds and so he increased his advantage over Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) to five seconds. He will try to win the race in tomorrow’s double stage. In the morning, the riders will tackle a short, flat 111.5km that is expected to be for the sprinters before the race will be decided in the classic 14.2km time trial in the afternoon.


A long stage

After the hilly opening stage, the riders faced the longest stage which brought the riders over 211.1km from Zottegem to Oostduinkerke. After a flat start, they hit the Gent-Wevelgem climbs of Mesenberg, Monteberg, Kemmelberg, Rodeberg and Vidaigneberg at the midpoint before they hit the final 90 flat kilometres. The race ended with three laps of an 11.2km finishing circuit.


It was dry and windy when the riders gathered for the start. Four riders were absent when the 134-rider peloton set out on the 2.5 km long neutral zone. Taylor Phinney, Michael Schär (BMC), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) and one of the favorites of the stage, Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), all stayed in the hotel.


The break is formed

Immediately from the start, Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF), Julien Morice (Direct Energie), Yuma Koishi (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Giuseppe Fonzi (South East), Michael Carbel (Stölting) and Andrei Solomennikov (Gazprom-RusVelo) managed to escape but after seven-kilometer fight, they were brought back. Instead, Jack Bauer (Cannondale), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora), Gianfranco Zilioli (Nippo), Marcin Bialoblocki (ONE) and Ivar Slik (Roompot) got away, and they were soon joined by 10 riders. However, it was impossible to get clear and things came back together.


Unfortunately, Manuel Belletti (South East) and Michael Carbel (Stölting) crashed in the frantic opening, and while the Dane could go on, the Italian left the race in an ambulance. Meanwhile, the attacks continued until Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal), Julien Morice (Direct Energie), Gianfranco Zilioli (Nippo), Ivar Slik (Roompot), Jonas Tenbrock (Stölting) and Mamyr Stash (Gazprom) got away. Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) bridged across when the gap had grown to 34 seconds. At the same time, Luke Rowe, Shane Archbold and Marco Haller had to work to get back to the peloton after mechanicals.


Tonelli bridges across

The lead was still only 36 seconds after 23km of racing because Bardiani had missed the move and chased hard. Eventually, they tried to send Alessandro Tonelli up the road, and thus the gap was allowed to go out to 45 seconds. FDJ briefly tried to take up the pursuit, but when they stopped, most of the peloton took a natural break


While the gap had grown to 2.44 after 32km of racing, Tonelli battled hard 36 seconds behind the leaders who finally decided to wait for the Italian rider. Apparently, they changed their mind again, but Tonelli still managed to make the junction when the lead had grown to 5.50. In the field, it was Astana who set the pace after a first hour in which 41.8 km were covered.


Katusha and Astana in control

After 50km of racing, the gap had gone out to 6.34 and now it was Sky, Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) and an Astana rider who led the peloton. While Andrea Fedi became the sixth Southeast rider to withdraw, they allowed the gap to grow to a maximum of 7.20 and then stabilized the situation. At the same time it briefly started to rain.


After two hours of racing, the average speed had dropped to 40.7km/h, and while Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) abandoned, the gap was kept at just over seven minutes. It was still the case when the riders hit Mesenberg where Tenbrock beat Van Lerberghe and Ligthart in the KOM sprint. In fact, the gap had grown to 7.30 at this point.


Vanbilsen attacks

The fight for position had now started, and it resulted in a big crash. Ryan Mullen (Cannondale) stayed on the ground and was forced to leave the race.


Stash beat Tenbrock and Morice in the KOM sprint on the Monteberg but the Russian was dropped as they hit the Kemmelberg. Here Ligthart was first at the top, followed by Slik and Van Lerberghe. At the same time, Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) attacked, but having built a lead of 15 seconds, he was again brought back by the peloton which was 6.30 behind. Stash was 40 seconds behind his former companions.


The peloton splits

Just after the Kemmelberg, the peloton turned into a crosswind and immediately the group split into seven parts. While the war was one Van Lerberghe won the final two KOM sprints followed by Slik-Morice and Lightart-Tonelli respectively.


A regrouping took place as 60 riders gathered in a first peloton but Katusha refused to give up. Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri, Michael Mørkøv and Nils Politt rode hard in an attempt to split the field. Ian Stannard was one of the ridders to get distanced but it was impossible to split the field. Jakob Fuglsang moved up to show that Astana was still there, taking a turn for the Kazakh team.


Things calm down

As the riders turned into a tailwind with 80km to go, things calmed down and it was Jakob Fuglsang, Laurens De Vreese (Astana) and Marco Haller (Katusha) who started to ride on the front. Especially, the former did a huge amount of work but still allowed the gap to grow from 4.30 to 5.00 with 72km to go.


In the front group, the cooperation was gone and Ligthart, Slik and Van Lerberghe who were clearly the strongest, rode away from their companions. Zilioli sat up but Tenbrock, Morice and Tonelli tried to rejoin the front. However, they were unable to match the front trio and were already one minute behind as they entered the final 70km.


Astana and Katusha set the pace

While Fuglsang ended his work and left it to Haller to set the pace, a big group with the likes of Jan Barta, Filippo Pozzato and Svein Tuft rejoined the peloton but it was in the front end of the group that the drama happened. Viacheslaz Kuznetsov simply hit a Direct Energie rider, an incident that could cost him a disqualification.


Astana and Katusha shared the pace-setting with Sergey Lagutin, Haller, Fuglsang, Lars Boom and Dmitriy Gruzdev who kept the gap around 4.30 and brought Zilioli back with 65km to go. It was a moment of calmness that allowed riders to refuel while the gap slowly dropped to 4.10 at the start of the final 60km. The chasers were losing ground and were now 1.45 behind the strong front trio.


A big crash

As the peloton hit a small cobbled sector, a big crash brought down several riders, including Kenneth Vanbilsen, Jack Bauer, Michael Kolar, Zilioli, Lasse Norman, Davide Martinelli and Zilioli. However, it was Nicol Boem  who was worst off and he left the race in an ambulance.


The peloton didn’t slow down and while riders desperately tried to rejoin the peloton, Katusha and Astana had reduced the gap to 3.45 with 55km to go. Fuglsang, Gruzdev, Haller and Alexander Porsev were now setting the pace while Boom ended his day and sat up.


Etixx-QuickStep start to chase

In a crosswind section with 50km to go, riders were getting dropped from the peloton and surprisingly Kuznetsov was among the riders to get distanced. Meanwhile, several groups were still chasing hard after the crash.


Fuglsang ended his work but Haller, Porsev and Gruzdev pressed on, bringing the chasers back with 46km to go. Six kilometres later, Etixx-QuickStep also started to chase with Davide Martinelli and Lagutin also returned from the rear end of the field to take some final turns. At this point, the gap had dropped to 2.30.


Ligthart takes off

As they approached, the first passage of the finish line for the first time, the escapees started to focus on the first intermediate sprint. Slik tried to launch a surprise attack but it was Van Lerberghe who narrowly held off Ligthart to pick up three bonus seconds. In the peloton, Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) had started to chase and he led the bunch across the line 1.45 later.


With 28km to go, Ligthart attacked and despite being right on his wheel, Van Lerberghe couldn’t match his speed. Slik had no response either and so Ligthart took off in a solo move, increasing the gap from 1.30 to 1.45 with 25km to go.


More bonus seconds for Ligthart

Fuglsang and Porsev again started to contribute to the pace-setting as the peloton had to up the pace, with Ligthart proving to be hard to catch. He crossed the line as the lone leader to win the final intermediate sprint while Van Lerberghe and Slik crossed the line in that order 32 seconds later.


The gap stayed around 1.30 for a while but when Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) also started to chase with 20km to go, Ligthart lost his upper hand. The gap had dropped to 1.15 when Van Lerberghe and Slik were brought back.


Mistake by Durbridge

With Astana, Katusha, Orica-GreenEDGE and Etix-QuickStep all chasing, it was impossible for Ligthart to stay clear and his advantage had dropped to 30 seconds with 15km to go. He decided to wait for the peloton and was back in the fold with 14km to go.


Nippo-Vini Fantini lost their sprinter when Eduard Grosu hit the deck in a crash that also involved Luka Pibernik and Andreas Schillinger. Meanwhile, Etixx-QuickStep took complete control with Martinelli and Keisse.


Haller hit the front as they approached the finish line for the penultimate time where Luke Durbridge made an embarrassing mistake, sprinting for the bonus seconds even though there was no intermediate sprint. His teammate Tuft took one final turn after the line and then it was Sky taking control before ultimately setting Viviani up for the win.



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