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Finding his way through a chaotic finale, Sagan managed to pass Van Poppel to win stage 3 of the Eneco Tour after a drama where the break was caught 100m from the line; Bouhanni was third and Dennis retaind the lead

Photo: Tinkoff / BettiniPhoto (Graham Watson)










21.09.2016 @ 17:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) again made use of his excellent bike-handling skills to come out on top in a very dramatic third stage of the Eneco Tour. When the early break was caught just 100m from the line, the Slovakian found his way from far back to pass all his sprint rivals and come around Danny Van Poppel (Sky) to win the stage and pick up 10 valuable bonus seconds, with Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) completing the podium. The world champion is now just 3 seconds behind Rohan Dennis (BMC) in the overall standings.


Peter Sagan is one of the most versatile rides in the peloton but he is usually not fast enough to win the big bunch sprints. Hence, he was more of an outsider than a real favourite for today’s completely flat third stage of the Eneco Tour which was expected to end in a big bunch sprint.


However, hesitation from the sprint teams changed the script completely and the finale was turned into a complete mess. In those conditions, no one is better than Sagan and the Slovakian made use of the chaotic circumstances to take a surprise win in Ardooie.


The drama stemmed from the fact that a 5-rider breakaway with Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida), Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen), Jesper Asselman (Roompot), Mark McNally (Wanty) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) suddenly had managed to tip the balance in their favour and after the peloton had been in complete control, the sprint teams hesitated in the finale. Hence, the escapees still had an advantage of 20 seconds at the flamme rouge and it looked like they were going to win the stage.


Unfortunately, an attack from Arashiro spoiled the cooperation and when the quintet started to look at each other, they were caught just 100m from the line. However, the frantic chase meant that no one could organize a lead-out and those chaotic conditions allowed Sagan to find his way through the mess to take the win. Coming from far back, he managed to come around Danny Van Poppel, take the win and pick up the important bonus seconds.


The drama started with 20km to go when a moment of hesitation suddenly had seen the gap go out from 1.10 to 1.45. LottoNL-Jumbo was the first sprint team to react as Timo Roosen took a massive turn but he failed to bring the gap down and when Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff) took over with 17km to go, it was still 1.40. Cannondale took over with Jack Bauer but it was Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff) who led the bunch across the line for the penultimate time to start the final 15.4km lap 1.30 behind the leaders.


Manuel Quinziato (BMC), Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Trusov set the pace as they tackled the section with narrow roads. Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) and Daniel Oss took over from Quinziato and Trusov and as they hit the final 10km, they had reduced the gap to a minute.


Bak and Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) took a few turns before Dimension Data briefly hit the front. Katusha took control with Viacheslav Kuznetsov but as they were not going full gas, Bak again came to the fore.


With 8km to go, Kuznetsov and Bak were still the only riders working in the peloton and as the gap was still 55 seconds, they were starting to panic. Suddenly, all the work was left to the Lotto Soudal pair of Bak and Tim Wellens and things were looking promising for the leaders.


Martin returned to the front but even the strong German couldn’t bring the gap down. Giant-Alpecin then lined out their train with Georg Preidler on the front and Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data) also took a massive turn.


Sky lined out their train with Luke Rowe on the front but the gap was still 30 seconds with 3 km to go. Ben Swift and Andrew Fenn finalized the work for the British team.


As the escapees started to tire, Elmiger attacked with 2.5km to go. However, he failed to get clear and so the cooperation was briefly gone. Luckily, Elmiger made up for his failed attack by taking another big turn and the group again started to work together.


In the peloton LottoNL-Jumbo were now chasing 100%, first with Jos Van Emden and then with Maartn Wynants. However, the escapees still had a promising gap as they hit the final kilometre.


Passing under the flamme rouge, Arashiro tried an attack but the Japanese never got clear. That turned out to be the undoing for the break as they came to a complete standstill and suddenly their gap melted away.


While the escapees looked at each other, Tom Boonen took a massive turn for Etixx-QuickStep, closing the gap just 100m from the line. Meanwhile, Steels was trying to do a long sprint before McNally passed im.


McNally shot ahead and looked like he might hold on but as the sprint unfolded, he had to surrender. Danny Van Poppel (Sky) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) were on the front when Boonen swung off but as he hesitated, the door was closed for the German. Van Poppel went from afar and seemed to be taking the win when Sagan suddenly came with impressive speed from behind, passing the Dutchman to win by a big margin. Nacer Bouhanni was third ahead of Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) while a disappointed McNally had to settle for fifth.


With the win, Sagan moved into second and he is now just 3 seconds behind Rohan Dennis. The Australian faces a harder challenge in tomorrow’s fourth stage which includes some famous terrain from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Brabantse Pijl. In the early part, the riders will tackle the Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat cobbles before they get to the 32km circuit that will be done twice. It includes a small pave of 800m and the climbs of Alsemberg and Bruine Put. The final ascent comes with 13.7km to go and then it is a flat run to the finish.


A flat stage

After yesterday’s time trial, the sprinters hoped to be back in the mix on stage 3 which brought the riders over 182.3km from Blankenberge to Ardooie. The course was completely flat and finished with two laps of a 15.4km circuit which had a pretty technical finale as the riders had to do three turns in quick succession before they got to the 1.1km finishing straight.


As forecasted, the riders had fantastic conditions as they gathered to start in Blankenberge, and there were no non-starters as they rolled through the neutral zone. With the prospect of a bunch sprint, it was no surprise that the early break was established right from the start as Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida), Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen), Jesper Asselman (Roompot), Mark McNally (Wanty) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) attacked straight from the gun. They already had a solid lead at the first Primus sprint which was won by Steels ahead of McNally, Asselman, Arashiro and Elmiger. After 20km of racing, it was already 2 minutes, and it even reached a maximum of 6.25 before the field slowly increased the pace. The gap came down steadily during the next 70km and with 70km to go, it was only 3.10.


A big alliance

Like in stage 1, there was a big alliance between the sprint teams and it was Daniel Oss (BMC), Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep), Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Hugo Hofstetter (Cofidis) who did the early work to control the break. Tom Bohli (BMC) soon took over for BMC and the quartet worked well together to reduce the gap to 2.30 as they hit the final 60 km.


The escapees reacted to the faster pace and managed to add another 20 seconds to their advantage. At the same time, Ag2r who are without a top sprinter in the race, surprisingly started to contribute to the pace-setting as Patrick Gretsch hit the front.


Steels wins the sprint

Bohli and later Hofstetter stopped their work and instead Lotto Soudal showed confidence in Greipel when Frederik Frison started to work as they hit the final 40km. Together with Gretsch, Jungels and Roosen, he had reduced the gap to 2.05 when quintet sprinted for the points in the final Primus sprint with 34km to go. Asselman tried to do a long sprint but Steels easily beat McNally, Asselman, Arashiro and Elmiger.


Arashiro made an immediate counterattack but Elmiger quickly shut it down. Hence, the quintet was still together when they crossed the line for the first time. The peloton reached the finish with a deficit of 1.20 after Gretsch had also stopped hi s work. The nervousness was now palpable and the fight for position was very intense, with Marco Coledan hitting the front for Trek.


Bonus seconds for Elmiger

Coledan led the peloton in a section with narrow road but when they again hit bigger roads, things calmed down. BMC took control and easily neutralized an attack from Gretsch who tried his hand with 25km to go.


Elmiger was allowed to win all sprints in the golden kilometre – ahead of Arashiro and Steels in the first two and ahead of Asselman and McNally in the third one – while BMC kept things under control with Bohli, Stefan Küng. Their slower pace allowed the escapees to push the gap out to 1.45 as they hit the final 20km. That’s when the sprint teams reacted and the dramatic finale started.



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