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With a perfectly timed sprint, Demare got his revenge over Boonen in the reduced bunch kick at the end of the difficult third stage of the Tour of Belgium; Brändle defended the overall lead

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade












29.05.2015 @ 18:54 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a season full of near-misses, Arnaud Demare (FDJ) finally opened his 2015 account when he won the reduced bunch sprint on stage 3 of the Tour of Belgium. After a difficult and aggressive race on the Belgian cobbles, he came off Tom Boonen’s (Etixx-QuickStep) wheel to get his revenge over the Belgian who beat him yesterday while Matthias Brändle (IAM) defended his overall lead.


After Nacer Bouhanni left the team, Arnaud Demare took the sole responsibility for FDJ in the bunch sprints for the 2015 season and he was expected to continue clocking up victories in the way he had done last year. However, the first part of the year has been extremely frustrating for the French champion who has failed to live up to the lofty expectations.


Demare has been unable to open his account in the sprints and has seemed to lack his usual kick in the bunch sprints. Very often he has been given perfect lead-outs by his team but the sprinter has always been unable to finish it off. Most recently he left the Tour de Picardie empty-handed.


Hence, he was in a determined mood at the start of the Tour of Belgium and he got a big boost of confidence yesterday when he finished second behind Tom Boonen in the bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Belgian race. Today’s tough stage in the Flemish Ardennes included several cobbles and many of the famous hellingen that characterize the Flemish classics and as he excels in these races, Demare was confident that today would finally be his day.


Things came together for Demare who got his revenge after yesterday’s defeat when he beat Boonen in a reduced bunch sprint after a hard and aggressive race on the cobbles. With a perfectly timed sprint, he came off Boonen’s wheel and left no one doubting his superiority.


However, it was no easy feat to bring it together for a sprint and it required a massive effort from Etixx-Quick to control the aggressive finale. As they hit the Paddestraat cobbles with 12km to go, Oliver Naesen (Topsport) and Vicente Reynes (IAM) still had a small advantage and had forced Etixx-QuickStep and Lotto Soudal to work hard.


As they hit the cobbles, Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) made a huge surge that made the peloton explode to pieces. Riders like Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Alexei Tsatevich (Katusah) and Manuel Quinziato (BMC) were some of the big names that were dropped from the group.


As they exited the cobbles, Naesen and Reynes just held on to win the final Primus sprint ahead of Roelandts, Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuicksStep) and Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Sooudal) but moments later it was all back together. While Vandenbergh started to ride on the front, Steve Chainel (Cofidis) took off and he managed to build an advantage of 7 seconds with 7km to go.


While Jempy Drucker (BMC) suffered an untimely puncture, his teammate Greg Van Avermaet went on the attack and he was joined by Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty), Laurens De Vreese (Astana) and Dmitri Claeys (Verandas Willems) to form a very strong group. They flew past Chainel before De Vreese dropped off, leaving just four riders to press on.


With 4km to go, they were 10 seconds ahead and Etixx-QuickStep had now hit the panic button. Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra were the only riders left at Boonen’s side and they took some huge turns in a quest to bring the four-rider break back.


With 2.5km to, Benoot and Van Avermaet distanced Leukemans and Claeys and it was now only Terpstra working in the peloton. However, he did a great performance to bring the front duo back just before they passed the flamme rouge.


Edward Theuns (Topsport) made an attack but Sieberg was quick to shut it down. The German let Theuns ride on the front before he gave Roelandts the perfect lead-out.


Roelandts started his sprint from the front of the splintering peloton but he had Boonen and Demare glued to his wheel. The trio went head to head but Demare turned out to be in a class of his own, wining the stage ahead of Boonen and Roelandts.


Matthias Brändle finished in the peloton and so he defended his overall lead. As Rohan Dennis (BMC) was dropped, he even extended hi advantage to 6 seconds over Demare who moves into second.


He faces an even tougher test tomorrow in stage 4 which brings the riders into hillier terrain. In a stage that is full of ups and downs, the riders end the day by doing four laps of a finishing circuit that includes several smaller climbs, including the Petit Poggio ascent. The summit comes less than 10km from the finish and leads to an uphill finishing straight where another reduced bunch sprint is expected.


A small classic

After the opening sprint stage, the Tour of Belgium continued with a stage that was described as a small cobbled classic. It brought the riders over 201.1km from Knokke-Heist to Herzele and after a flat start, the riders headed into the Flemish Ardennes. After a passage of the Wolvenberg, they would reach the finishing circuit where they would first tackle the Leberg and the Berendries before they did two full laps that saw them go up the Valkenberg, Leberg and Berendries twice for a total of 9 hellingen. The final of those challenges was located 10km from the finish and the stage also included the pave sectors of Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat.


The riders had dry conditions when they gathered for the start in Knokke-Heist but again a strong wind would make things tough for the riders. Unsurprisingly, they got the stage off to a fast stage with lots of attacks and it took some time for the early break to be formed.


Small groups take off

After 10km of racing, Gert Joeaar (Cofidis) and Jimmy Janssens (3M) got a small advantage and they were joined by Danilo Napolitano (Wanty) and Stef Van Zummeren (Verandas Willems). They stayed clear for a little while but were ultimately brought back.


The riders were riding at speeds of 60km/h as the attacking continued before Campbell Flakemore (BMC), Rob Ruijgh (Vastgoedservice), Kevin Ista (Wallonie) and Van Zummeren managed to build an advantage of 10 seconds. However, that was not the right move either and it all came back together.


The break is formed

Due to the fast pace, the peloton started to split before the situation finally calmed down. This allowed Rohan Dennis (BMC), Joeaar, Timothy Stevens (Vastgoedservice), Michael Vingerling (3M) and Gregory Habeaux (Wallonie) to get an advantage that quickly went out to 1.20.


Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) who crashed in the prologue left the race while the escapees managed to extend their advantage to 2.30 after 55km of racing. At this point, IAM took control of the peloton and kept the breakaway in check.


The attacking starts

Dennis beat Stevens, Joeaar, Habeaux and Vingerling in the first Primus sprint before they crossed the finish line for the first time. At this point, IAM had everything under control as the gap was only 2.50 and at the bottom of the Valkenberg, the gap was only 2.17.


The peloton suddenly accelerated hard and as they hit the Leberg, the gap was only 1.20. Here Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) and Jelle Wallays (Topsport) tried to bridge the gap and they were joined by Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal), Dylan Teuns (BMC) and Gaetan Bille (Verandas Willems). However, they were quickly brought back.


The big names come out to play

The escapees were now just 15 seconds ahead and this prompted Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal), Boru Bozic (Astana) and Nikolas Maes (Etixx-QuickStep) to give it a try and they quickly joined the leaders. Only Dennis and Habeaux could hang onto them as Roelandts won the second Primus sprint ahead of Bozic, Maes, Habeaux and Dennis.


Dennis was dropped while Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) bridged the gap and later Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep), Gijs van Hoecke (Topsport), Jesper Asselman (Roompot) and Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP) also made the junction. Further back, the peloton had split to pieces and race leader Matthias Brändle (IAM) found himself in the second big group where his teammates Dries Devenyns and Vicente Reynes were working hard.


Brändle bridges the gap

While Habeaux was dropped from the front group, Brändle and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) bridged across to the first big group in which William Bonnet (FDJ) was working hard. Frederik Backaert (Wanty) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) both tried to bridge the gap and the many accelerations were enough to bring the first big group back to the leaders. Meanwhile, Devenyns bridged the gap to the front group while Jens Debusschere, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Julien Vermote found themselves in the second group.


The peloton calmed down a bit before Theuns launched an attack. De Gendt joined him but they were quickly brought back. However, the Belgian was in a determined and he tried again before IAM finally took control of the situation.


Lots of attacks

Tom Leezer (LottoNL) and Michael Schär (BMC) were among the many riders to try an attack and even Van Avermaet gave it a go. In the end, however, it was De Gendt, Naesen and Reynes who managed to get an advantage and as the peloton slowed down, they had a 40-second advantage with 40km to go.


Maes started to chase for Etixx-QuickStep while Wallonie and Debusschere were working hard in the second group. With 35km to go, they finally made the junction with the main group which was now 1 minute behind.


A hard chase

Maes and Martin Velits set the pace for Etixx-QuickStep to keep the gap stable at 1 minute. Meanwhile, De Gendt was dropped from the front group on the Valkenberg with 31km to go.


Velits and Maes swung off and so it was now Julien Vermote and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck who had to do the hard work on the front. With 25km to go, they got a breather when BMC took over and under the impetus off Schär’s hard work, they brought De Gendt back.


Bonus seconds for Bille

The riders were now approaching the Golden Kilometre with three consecutive sprints in just 1000m. Here Gaetan Bille (Verandas Willems) attacked and he managed to take third in all three sprints behind Naesen and Reynes.


Chainel was the next to try but he was quickly brought back. As they entered the final 20km, the front duo were 1 minute ahead of the peloton while Bille was at 30 seconds.


Vandenbergh, Vermote, Van Keirsbulck and Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal) were now chasing full gas and this made the group splinter. With 15km to go, Bille was brought back and the front duo were only 35 seconds ahead. Moments later they hit the Paddestraat and this is where Roelandts started the finale.



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