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In a photo finish, Kristoff narrowly held off a fast-finishing Greipel to win stage 3a of the Driedaagse van de Panne; going into the final time trial, the Norwegian leads Devolder by 22 seconds

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ANDRÉ GREIPEL

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CLASSIC BRUGGE-DE PANNE

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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SACHA MODOLO

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02.04.2015 @ 12:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his dominance of the Three Days of De Panne when he made it three in a row by winning the morning stage 3a of the three-day race. In a very close photo finish, he narrowly held off a fast-finishing André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) to extend his overall lead over Stijn Devolder (Trek) to 22 seconds while Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) completed the podium.

 

With two stage wins, Alexander Kristoff has clearly proved that he is the strongest that he is the strongest rider in the Driedaagse van De Panne but the big Norwegian is still not content with what he has got. Today he became the first rider in the history of the Belgian race to take three stage wins in a row when he won the bunch sprint in De Panne on the morning stage.

 

However, the win was very different from the ones he had taken in the first two stages of the race. In those races, he had been in a class of his own but today he was up against a very fast André Greipel who nearly broke his winning streak and the race was decided in a photo finish that was clearly the closest this year. It took a long time for the commissaires to make the call before the Norwegian was finally declared the winner.

 

However, things had nearly turned sour for Kristoff as a very strong Kenny van Melsen (Wanty) was about to create a surprise. With 3km to go, the young Belgian was still 15 seconds ahead and Katusha had to use Marco Haller and Sven Erik Bystrøm to bring him back, leaving the Norwegian sprinter with less firepower for the lead-out.

 

However, van Melsen was now starting to fade and just after the 2km to go mark, he was back in the fold. Bystrøm continued to ride on the front for a while before Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal) took over with Greipel on his wheel.

 

However, it was the FDJ team which completely dominated the finale. After Arnaud Demare had left the race, the Frenchmen wanted to give young Marc Sarreau his chance and as they passed the flamme rouge William Bonnet, Sebastien Chavanel hit the front with their captain on their wheel. Further back, Kristoff was fighting hard with Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) for the Frenchman’s wheel and it was the Italian who won the battle.

 

Chavanel was the first rider through the final turn with 250m to go and tried to set Sarreau up for the sprint. However, he was anticipated by Kristoff and Andrea Guardini (Astana) who went head to head.

 

The Italian quickly drifted backwards and Kristoff seemed to be powering clear to another comfortable win. However, Greipel had finally found a gap after having been boxed in and he came very fast on the right-hand side of the Norwegian who had started to fade. None of the riders celebrated when they crossed the line but in the end, Kristoff was declared the winner.

 

This means that he has extended his overall lead over Stijn Devolder (Trek) to 22 seconds. He takes it into the decisive 14.2km time trial which will be held in the afternoon in De Panne. The course is very technical and with a number of good time triallists within shouting distance of the Norwegian, Kristoff has to produce a great ride to win the race overall.

 

A flat course

As usual, the riders started the final day of the Driedaagse van De Panne by doing a short 111.4km morning stage around the city of De Panne. With a completely flat course, a bunch sprint was expected but wind has often wreaked havoc on the peloton on the narrow roads. The riders ended the stage by doing one lap of an 8.4km finishing circuit.

 

As it is often the case at the Driedaagse de Panne, many riders who are scheduled to be at the start in Brugge on Sunday, skip the final day of the three days race. That is also the case in 2015 as Jasper Stuyven (Trek), Jens Keukelere (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) were all absent when the rest of the riders left De Panne under a cloudy sky. Surprisisingly, Lars Boom (Astana) decided to take the start but he left the race already after 10km of racing.

 

A big break

Like yesterday, the stage got off to a pretty aggressive start and again the peloton allowed a rather big group to get clear. After 21km of racing, Kenny de Ketele (Topsport Vlaanderen), Kevin van Melsen (Wanty), Timothy Stevens (Vastgoedservice), Emiel Vermeulen (3M), Antoine Warnier (Wallonie), Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal), Morgan Lamoisson (Europcar), Troels Vinter (Cult), Mattia Pozzo (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Mirko Tedeschi, Eugert Zhupa (Southeast), Jay Robert Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka) and Tim Kerkhof (Roompot) had an advantage of 1.20.

 

The peloton kept the group firmly under control and things didn’t get any easier when the wind split the main group at the 30km mark. However, the bunch regrouped again but the nervousness was evident as they continued along the narrow roads.

 

Trek, Sky and Bora take control

Danny van Poppel (Trek) briefly went down in a small crash while the peloton continued to head along with all the big teams lined out on the front, 45 seconds behind the leaders. With 55km to go, however, the peloton calmed down a bit and so a more organized chase got going. Björn Thurau (Bora-Argon 18) started to work with Danny Pate (Sky), Hayden Roulston and Jesse Sergent (Trek) but the slower pace allowed the gap to go back up to 1.05.

 

Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Argon 18) added more firepower to the chase until the peloton changed direction with 40km to go, Sky took over with Benhard Eisel but as the wind was not strong enough to split the field, Nathan Earle (Sky), Pate, Roulston and Sergent again started to chase.

 

Bos goes down

Warnier fought his way back to the front group after an untimely puncture while the gap stayed around 50 seconds. Meanwhile, a windy section created some nervousness near the back and Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka) and Nicolas Marini (Nippo-Vini Fantini) both went down.

 

Suddenly the peloton split into 4-5 group and big names like Bradley Wiggins, Elia Viviani, Julien Vermote and Manuel Quinziato were now also working on the front. As they changed direction, however, the group slowed down again and the groups came back together.

 

Bad luck for van Zijl

The slower pace allowed Melvin van Zijl (3M) and Alphonse Vermote (Vastgoedservice) to attack and for a little while they dangled a few seconds ahead of the peloton. However, the former hit the rear wheel of the latter and when he had hit the deck, the move was neutralized.

 

Pate, Earle, Sergent, Pfingsten and Roulston again started to chase 1.00 behind the escapees. In another windy section with 18km to go, riders started to get dropped and the gap came down to 45 seconds.

 

The chase gets organized

With 15km to go, Katusha started to chase with Haller and Bora-Argon 18 also came to the fore with Andreas Schillinger. Bardiani also lend a hand while Stevens beat van Melsen in the intermediate sprint.

 

With 11km to go, most teams disappeared from the front and it was left to Chris Sutton (Sky) and a Bardiani rider to work. They did a good job to bring the gap down to 20 seconds with 10km to go.

 

Van Melen gets clear

In the front group, the attacking started when Kerkhof launched the first attack. Warnier, Kerkhof and Stevens made the next moves while Tedeschi fell back to the peloton.

 

Vermeulen was the next to take off but he was passed by a very strong van Melsen who got a gap. As he started the finishing circuit, he was 20 seconds ahead of the peloton which was led by Bystrøm.

 

The break is caught

Katusha disappeared from the front and so Bernhard Eisel (Sky) took over for Sky. However, they were not really going fast and with 5km to go, van Melsen had extended his gap to 25 seconds.

 

Katusha went back to work with Bystrøm and Haller and this tipped the balance. With 3km to go, van Melsen was just 15 seconds ahead. Moments later, the chasers were caught and later van Melsen also had to surrender, setting the scene for a close bunch sprint.

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