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With a perfectly timed sprint, Groenewegen won the big battle between all the top sprinters on the first stage of the Eneco Tour to take both the victory and the overall lead; Bouhanni and Sagan completed the podium

Photo: Team LottoNL-Jumbo










19.09.2016 @ 17:18 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) continued his rapid rise towards the top of the sprint hierarchy when he claimed the biggest win of his short career in the star-studded sprint battle on the first stage of the Eneco Tour. In a very confusing finale, he powered down the right-hand side to hold off a fast-finishing Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), take the stage win and move into the race lead. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) picked up four valuable bonus seconds with his third place.


When LottoNL-Jumbo announced that they had signed Brussels Cycling Classic winner Dylan Groenewegen for the 2016 season, it didn’t get much attention. After all, the Dutchman had only won two races and nothing suggested that he was going to challenge the major sprinters in the biggest races.


12 months later, the situation has changed completely. In what has been one of the most remarkable WorldTour debuts for a sprinter, Groenewegen has been a huge success who has won nine races throughout his first time at the highest level. His surprisingly good start even prompted the team to select him for the Tour de France and even though he failed to win a stage at La Grande Boucle, he proved that he has the speed to compete with the best.


At the recent Tour of Britain, Groenewegen showed that he is back on form after a short break when he won a very tough stage in a reduced bunch sprint and this made him confident that he could challenge for the wins in this week’s Eneco Tour which has gathered the best field of sprinters in the 2016 season. Among the top names, only Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Bryan Coquard and Fernando Gaviria are absent and many were looking to the German titans Marcel Kittel and André Greipel to battle it out for leadership of the German team for the Worlds in Qatar. However, they were all denied as Groenewegen turned out to be the fastest in the first battle between the fastmen in the Dutch-Belgian race.


As expected, the flat stage came down to a bunch sprint and with all those top names in attendance, it became a hugely confusing and very unorganized finale. Only FDJ and Katusha managed to organize some kind of a lead-out but in the chaos, Groenewegen found an opening and he proved to be the strongest by holding off a fast-finishing Nacer Bouhanni to take the win.


The expected battle between Kittel and Greipel never materialized as Greipel and Lotto Soudal messed things up completely and they were never close to the front. Kittel was isolated and as he was boxed in, he could never launch his sprint, rolling across the line in 9th place.


After a calm day, the action unfolded on the final lap of the 17.3km finishing circuit. Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen), Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty) crossed the line with a small advantage of 1.10 but the peloton was ramping up the speed.


The fight for position was very intense and in the chaos, there was another crash. Danny Van Poppel, Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), Marco Coledan (Trek) and Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) all hit the deck and the Sky sprinter was worst off. Luckily, everybody managed to get back on their bikes but Van Poppel was out of the battle for the stage win.


Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal) and Carlos Verona (Orica-BikeExchange) were the only riders left to do the work in the peloton which was 30 seconds behind the leaders with 13km to go. Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) joined the pair but the workers were soon swamped by FDJ, Katusha and Trek who lined up their trains with Olivier Le Gac, Nils Politt and Jasper Stuyven on the front.


While the peloton slowed down and kept the gap at 30 seconds, Backaert attacked 8km from the finish and he was quickly joined by Bono. Van Goethem was next to regain contact and one kilometre later the group was back together.


The attacking had pushed the gap out to 40 seconds and that prompted the peloton to up the pace. Politt took a huge turn for Katusha but the gap was not coming much down as it was still 25 seconds with 5km to go.


The balance finally tipped and so Van Lerberghe attacked with 4km to go but he failed to get rid of his companions. It was LottoNL-Jumbo and Dimension Data that had taken control, with Jos van Emden taking a massive turn.


When the break was almost caught, Van Goethem attacked and Van Lerberghe sat up immediately. Just after the passage of the 3km to go, the rest of the break was caught and the scene was set for the bunch sprint.


Tinkoff took control with Oscar Gatto who led the peloton under the 2km to go banner. FDJ took over before Orica-BikeExchangemanaged to pass, with Alexander Edmondson taking a huge turn.


FDJ again hit the front and it was William Bonnet who led the peloton under the flamme rouge. However, they were passed by the Katusha trio of Alexander Porsev, Michael Mørkøv and Alexander Kristoff and it was the Russian team that dominated the finale.


Mørkøv delivered Kristoff on the front but as he started to fade, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) anticipated his compatriot. The Norwegian sprinted towards the finish and looked like he was going to win. However, Groenewegen soon found a gap on the right-hand side of the road and easily came around the Norwegian to take the win. Nacer Bouhanni came fast from behind to take second while Sagan could only stay on Groenewegen’s wheel but picked up four important bonus seconds by crossing the line in third. Kittel was boxed in and could only manage 9th.


With the win, Groenewegen takes the overall lead with a four-second advantage over Bouhanni and Backaert. However, he is likely to lose that position in tomorrow’s second stage which is the first key stage for the GC. The riders will tackle the 9.6km time trial in Breda on a flat course that is suited to the powerful specialists.


A flat stage

The 12th edition of the Eneco Tour kicked off with a completely flat 184.7km around the Dutch city of Bolsward. The riders first tackled one lap on the northern outskirts of the city and then headed to the south to do a lap of a big circuit of 112km. In the end, they did two laps of a flat non-technical 17.3km circuit which ended with an almost 5km finishing straight.


It was a beautiful and calm day in Holland as the most star-studded field in the race's history gathered for the start. Unsurprisingly, the flat route meant that there was no great interest in joining the break, so the group was established right from the start. Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen), Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty) took off, and after 10km of racing they already had a lead of four minutes .


A big sprint alliance

While Van Lerberghe beat De Vreese, Van Goethem, Backaert and Bono in the first Primus sprint, the gap stabilized between 4.00 and 4.30, and unsurprisingly, it was Etixx-QuickStep that took responsibility in the peloton. The gap was 4.33 at the first passage of the finish line but then dropped to 3.40. After 67km of racing, it was already below 3 minutes.


A big alliance between the sprint teams was formed as Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), Carlos Verona (Orica-BikeExchange), Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Hugo Hofstetter (Cofidis) started to work on the front and for most of the day, they kept the gap between 2.30 and 3.00. As they hit the finishing circuit with 49km to go, it was still 2.30.


Van Lerberghe wins the sprint

With 42km to go, the fight for the second Primus sprint started and it was Van Goethem who tried to surprise sprinter Van Lerberghe with a strong attack. De Vreese countered but the Topsport rider had everything under control and easily won the sprint ahead of Van Goethem, the Astana rider, Backaert and Bono.


The group came back together and hit the final 40km with an advantage of 2.30. As they crossed the line six kiloemtres later, Keisse, Frison, Verona, Rooson and Hofstetter had shaved 20 seconds off the lead.


Thomas and Nizzolo go down

As they tackled the first lap of the circuit, the peloton increased the space significantly and so the gap came down quickly. That made it difficult for Geraint Thomas (Sky), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) and Stijn Devolder (Trek) to rejoin the peloton when they all hit the deck with 27km to go.


The escapees contested the three intermediate sprints in the golden kilometre and it was Backaert who kicked things off with a strong attack. Bono took off in pursuit and suddenly the five riders were spread all over the road.


A fight for bonus seconds

Backaert held on to win the first sprint ahead of Bono and De Vreese before the four chasers regrouped. However, they were unable to bring Backaert back in time for the second sprint which the Belgian won ahead of Van Lerberghe and De Vreese. When Backaert was brought back, Van Goethem attacked but De Vreese managed to claw his way back and win the final sprint ahead of the Roompot rider and Bono.


After a small attack from Van Bono, the quintet came back together and they started the final lap with an advantage of 1.10 over the peloton. Moments later, a crash split the field which set the scene for the hectic finale.



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