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With a powerful sprint on the uphill finishing straight, Demare again held off Boonen to take comfortable win in stage 4 of the Tour of Belgium; Brändle defended his overall lead on the eve of the queen stage

Photo: ASO / B. Bade

ARNAUD DEMARE

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BELGIUM TOUR

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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IAM CYCLING

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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MATTHIAS BRÄNDLE

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30.05.2015 @ 19:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a slow start to the season, Arnaud Demare (FDJ) has finally got the ball rolling and today he added the in stage 4 of the Tour of Belgium to the one he took 24 hours ago. After a perfect lead-out from Mickael Delage (FDJ), he held off Tom Boonen (Etixx-QucikStep) on the tough uphill finishing straight to make it two in a row while Matthias Brändle (IAM) picked up bonus seconds along the way to defend his overall lead with a 1-second advantage over the French champion.

 

The 2015 season has been a hugely frustrating affair for Arnaud Demare. After Nacer Bouhanni had left FDJ, he was given the sole responsibility in the sprints but the French champion got to the end of May before he finally made things right in a bunch sprint.

 

That happened yesterday when he powered clear of Tom Boonen to win stage 3 of the Tour of Belgium. Today all was set for another battle between the two in-form sprinters in stage 4 which finished with four laps of a tough finishing circuit that included the Petit Poggio climb and an uphill finishing straight where the strong sprinters could shine.

 

Apparently, Demare has now started a winning streak and has brought an end to his bad luck and lack of strength. After yesterday’s win, he was again faster than his Belgian rival when an aggressive stage came down to the expected bunch sprint.

 

Yesterday it was the Etixx-QuickStep team who had brought it all together in the finale and today it was again the Belgians who made the sprint possible in a very aggressive finale. After the golden kilometre where Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) had picked up 8 bonus second and race leader Matthias Brändle had scored 5 seconds, a very strong front group was formed.

 

Van Avermaet and Brändle were joined by Van Avermaet’s teammates Rohan Dennis, Jempy Drucker, Timo Roosen (LottoNL), Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP), Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice), Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha), Kai Reus (Verandas Willems), Steve Chainel (Cofidis) Thomas Sprengers (Roompot), Frederik Backaert (Wanty) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) in what looked like a potential race-winning move. Drucker dropped back quickly but Dennis did a huge amount of work for his leader and so they quicly got a 12-second advantage over the peloton.

 

Etixx-QuickStep and FDJ started to chase with William Bonnet and Julien Vermote and they quickly got some help from Verandas Willems and Wallonie. However, the gap had gone out to 20 seconds as they started the final lap of the 10km circuit.

 

Topsport also lent a hand to the chase and as Dennis started to fade, the group was brought back. Chainel tried to make a late move but with 8km to go, it was back together.

 

A Roompot rider attacked while Dennis and Drucker were both dropped before Vastgoedservice started to ride tempo. As they approached the Petit Poggio, BMC took control with Michael Schär before Roosen made a strong attack.

 

Etixx-QuickStep and BMC worked together to bring him back as they hit the Petit Poggio for the final time. Here Benoot made a big attack and he was the first to crest the summit while Schär led the chase and Andrea Guardini (Astana) was suffering at the back.

 

Benoot was brought back and instead a Roompot rider and Kuznetsov gave it a go. They were caught with 3km to go before Sander Cordeel (Vastgoedservice) made a strong attack.

 

A Roompot rider, Tim De Troyer (Wanty) and Roosen passed the fading Cordeel. However, Etixx-QuickStep had now taken control with Yves Lampaert and he brought it back together with 2km to.

 

Astana, 3M and Jens Adams (Vastgoedservice) all tried to attack but Etixx-QuickStep were working hard to keep the situation under control. Under the flamme rouge, Lampert brought it all back together and it was Niki Terpstra who did the lead-out for Boonen.

 

With 500m to go, they were passed by Delage, Demare and Van Avermaet and this forced Boonen to do a long sprint. The Belgian briefly seemed to take the win but when Demare dropped the hammer, the outcome was never in doubt. The Frenchman was clearly the fastest while Boonen and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) completed the podium.

 

As he picked up those 5 bonus seconds long the way, Brändle managed to defend the leader’s jersey with a 1-second advantage over Demare. It will all be decided in tomorrow’s queen stage which is mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege with 10 categorized climbs, including the gamous Cote de Stockeu, Haute Levee and Col du Rosier. The final ascent comes with 10km to go and then it is rolling terrain in the final part.

 

A hilly stage

After yesterday’s ride through the Flemish Ardennes, the series of small classics continued. Stage 4 brought the riders over 158.5 hilly kilometres around Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure where both the start and finish was located. After a day with constant ups and downs, the stage ended with four laps of a tough finishing circuit that included the famous Petit Poggio climb (700m, 6.4%). The summit was located just 5km from the finish and from there the road was mostly slightly uphill all the way to the finish where the strong sprinters where expected to shine.

 

The riders had great weather when they gathered for the start of the hilliest stage so far in the Belgian national tour. In the previous stages, it had taken some time for the early break to get formed but today it was different. Already after 5km of attacking, Anton Vorobyev (Katusha), Roy Jans (Wanty), Alphonse Vermote (Vastgoedservice), David van der Poel (BKCP), Connor McConvey (3M), Thomas Ongena (Cibel), Olivier Chevalier (Wallonie) and Kai Reus (Verandas Willems) escaped.

 

IAM take control

At the 8km mark, they had an advantage of 35 seconds and it quickly went out to 1.05 just 3km later. It reached around 5 minutes before IAM took control and started to keep the situation stable. After an hour of racing, the gap was still 5.20.

 

Jans beat Ongena, Reus, McConvey and Vermote in the first Primus sprint at a point when the gap was still 5.23. However, none of the riders in the break were any threat to Matthias Brändle’s overall lead and so IAM had no interest in bringing them back. Hence, it was left to other teams to up the pace and it was Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal), Martin Velits (Etixx-QuickStep), Maxat Ayazbayev and Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana) who gradually started to bring the group back.

 

Van Keirsbulck abandons

With 65km to go, they had brought the gap down to 3.25 and while Rudy Molard (Cofidis) fought his way back from a puncture, they continued their slow comeback. At this point, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep) left the race.

 

With 45km to go, Astana significantly upped the pace and so the gap came down quickly. Meanwhile, the escapees contested the next Primus sprint as they crossed the finish line for the first time. Jans, McConvey, , Ongena and Reus managed to escape to cross the line in that order while Vermote was next across the line.

 

Reus takes off

The group came back together before Chevalier tried to attack. A 5-rider group was briefly formed bu it was the counterattack by Reus that worked.

 

The Dutchman managed to get clear and he managed to reopen his advantage to 1.55 after it had been down to 1.43 at the passage of the line. The peloton had slowed down and it was Astana and Dockx riding on the front.

 

The peloton slows down

Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) started to work with them and as they started the penultimate lap, they had kept the gap at around 1.50. At this point, Vorobyev, McConvey and Chevalier were the nearest chasers while the rest pf the early escapees were caught on the finishing straight.

 

Velits came back to work with Dockx, Astana and Vandenbergh and they now upped the pace. With 20km to go, the gap was only 1.10.

 

Van Avermaet attacks

The riders were now close to the Golden Kilometre and so BMC took control to bring back the chasers. As they hit a small climb, Manuel Quinziato set Greg Van Avermaet up for an attack and he quickly got a gap while Brändle and Drucker formed a chase group.

 

Reus won the first of the three sprints ahead of Van Avermaet and Brändle but he was passed by his three chasers before the second sprint. Van Avermaet, Brändle and Drucker crossed the line in the final two sprints in that order before they slowed down to wait for their chasers. Here a strong group had formed and as Dennis started to work for Van Avermaet, FDJ and Etixx-QuickStep were forced to chase hard before they managed to set up the sprint finish.

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