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After a splendid performance by Etixx-Quickst to position their sprinter, Boonen managed to pass Demare just metres from the line to win the bunch sprint on stage 3 of the Eneco Tour; Asselman defended the lead on the eve of the TT

Photo: Sirotti

ARNAUD DEMARE

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BENELUX TOUR

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ELIA VIVIANI

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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ROOMPOT-CHARLES

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12.08.2015 @ 16:53 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) got a disappointing 2015 season back on track when he took a rare bunch sprint victory on the third stage of the Eneco Tour. After his Etixx-QuickStep team had done a fantastic job to position him in the finale, he responded to a long sprint from Arnaud Demare (FDJ) whom he narrowly managed to pass to take the biggest win of his season. The result was the perfect outcome for Jesper Asselman (Roompot) who defended the lead with a 1-second advantage over Boonen and Elia Viviani (Sky).

 

Tom Boonen is still a hero in Belgium but in the last few years his results have not backed up his status. A number of crashes have destroyed his classics campaigns and it has also been evident that he is no longer as strong as he once was.

 

2015 has not been any better for the Etixx-QuickStep star as he was forced to miss the classics when he crashed in Paris-Nice. Since then he has gradually got up to speed but a stage win in the Tour of Belgium and a Rund um Köln victory is not enough to make it a successful season for a rider like Boonen.

 

Now it seems that he is back on track as he readies himself for his next big goal which is the World Championships. He has carefully worked on his sprint to be ready for the battle for the rainbow jersey and that effort has apparently paid off as he took the biggest bunch sprint win for several years in today’s third stage of the Eneco Tour.

 

It was a perfect display of teamwork that set Boonen up for the win in what was a very hectic finale. Already in the past few stages they had proved that they have one of the best lead-out trains in the race and today they confirmed that status by positioning their fast sprinter well.

 

With 6km to go, it was the Giant-Alpecin team which hit out when Simon Geschke led five of his teammates into the first positions. Georg Preidler and Tobias Ludvigsson were the next to take turns but it all seemed to be just a matter of time before Lotto Soudal would take over as the Belgian team was looming just behind.

 

With 4km to go, Roy Curvers took over but with just Zico Waeytens and sprinter Nikias Arndt left behind him it was too early. Hence, he slowed down and that allowed Lotto Soudal to move up next to them, with Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot trading pulls.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE took over with Jens Keukeleire leading Leigh Howard and Magnus Cort while Lotto Soudal stayed next to them. Jasper Stuyven briefly took a turn for Trek but just before they hit the crucial S turn with 1.2km to go, Etixx-QuickStep showed their strength.

 

Fabio Sabatini, Nikolas Maes, Yves Lampaert and Tom Boonen hit the front and while the Lotto Soudal train splintered to pieces and Greipel found himself far back in the group, they led the peloton trhough the turn. Niki Terpstra moved up to take a turn while splits were created in the peloton.

 

Lampaert made the lead-out but it was too early and when he swung off, the pace went down. This allowed riders to come from behind and it was Arnaud Demare who found a gap on the right-hand side to power down the finishing straight.

 

For a long time, it looked like the Frenchman would take the win but Boonen had benefited from his good position to grab his wheels. With a perfectly timed sprint, he came around his rivals to take the biggest win of his season. Elia Viviani came fast from behind to take third while Greipel had to settle for sixth.

 

The result was the perfect outcome for Jesper Asselman who defended his lead with a 1-second advantage over Boonen and Viviani. Hence, he will wear the white jersey in tomorrow’s first big GC stage which is the 14.0km time trial in Hoogerheide. The course is mainly flat and suited to the big specialists who will be able to create the first major differences in the overall standings.

 

A flat stage

After two days in flat terrain, there was one final opportunity for the sprinters before the GC battle will kick off tomorrow. Stage 3 brought the riders over 171.9km from Beveren to Ardooie and was completely flat. Like in the previous stages, the riders ended the day by doing two laps of a finishing circuit. This circuit was 15.4km long and had a pretty technical finale which has created some chaos in past editions of the same stage.

 

The forecasted rain was absent when the riders gathered for the start in Beveren after having traveled to Belgium overnight. One rider was missing as Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen) broke his finger in the big crash in yesterday’s finale.

 

A trio take off

With another sprint finish on the cards, it was no surprise that the early break was established right from the gun. Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen), David Boucher (FDJ) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty) attacked as soon as the flag had been dropped and they quickly built an advantage of 3 minutes.

 

Theuns won the first Primus sprint at the end of the small lap around the starting city as he held off Veuchelen and Boucher in the fight for maximum points. Further back, his teammate Gijs Van Hoecke and Oliver Naesen picked up the remaining points on offer.

 

Breschel abandons

At the end of the first hour, the escapees had covered 44km but they hadn’t got much of an advantage. They were just 3.40 ahead as they continued their ride towards Ardooie with a nice tailwind pushing them along. With 112km to go, the gap was still 3.50 and as they entered the final 90km, the situation was completely unchanged. Meanwhile, Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) who crashed yesterday abandoned the race.

 

It was the Roompot team that had taken control and Tim Kerkhof, Huub Duijn and Johhny Hoogerland were trading pulls to keep the gap stable. As they entered the feed zone with 70km to go, it was still 3.15 and it stayed around that mark for a long time in a relaxed phase of the race.

 

Izagirre crashes

Despite the calm atmosphere, Gorka Izagire (Movistar) and Hugo Houle (Ag2r) hit the deck with 48km to go and unfortunately the former was forced to abandon. Meanwhile, both the peloton and the break clearly accelerated and as they entered the final 40km, Roompot had brought the gap down to 2.30.

 

Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin) was the next rider to abandon while Roompot continued to slowly reel the break in. When Theuns beat Veuchelen in the final Primus sprint with 33km to go, the gap was only 1.35.

 

Theuns wins the sprints

At the start of the first lap of the finishing circuit, it was only 1.05 and this was the signal for Lotto Soudal to kick into action. While Fabio Felline (Trek) rejoined the peloton after a puncture, Stig Broeckx hit the front for the Belgian team.

 

With 25km to go, the front trio reached the golden kilometre where Boucher decided to sit up. Theuns beat Veuchelen in the first sprint and kept going to distance his companion. In that way, he managed to win all three sprints before he again waited for his companion.

 

The break is caught

Boucher was brought back by the peloton which was now led by Orica-GreenEDGE and Trek. Sam Bewley, Michael Hepburn, Svein Tuft, Hayden Roulston and Eugenio Alafaci were setting the pace for their respective trains and as the front dup sat up, it was all back together with 20km to go.

 

Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) launched a solo attack with 19km to go and he stayed 10 seconds ahead for couple of kilometres before Trek and Orica-GreenEDGE reeled him in. The Australian team briefly took control as they went through the late S-turn but as they started the final lap, Trek had taken over with Roulston and Marco Coledan.

 

Broeckx moved the Lotto Soudal train up with 12km to go where Boucher as dropped from the peloton. LottoNL-Jumbo took over with Jos van Emden before Astana, FDJ and Tinkoff-Saxo lined out their troops on the front. Gruzdev and Boaro both took huge turns before Giant-Alpecin was the first sprint train to launch the lead-out. However, it was Boonen who came away with the win.

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