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In a hugely confusing bunch sprint that no one managed to dominate, Theuns held off the Cofidis pair of van Staeyen and Verhelst to win stage 3 of the Tour de l’Eurometropole; Gougeard defended the lead

Photo: Thomas Sjørup

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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ADRIEN PETIT

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ALEXIS GOUGEARD

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EDWARD THEUNS

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SPORT VLAANDEREN - BALOISE

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TOUR DE L'EUROMÉTROPOLE

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03.10.2015 @ 16:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a few disappointing months, Edward Theuns proved that he is ready to end his time with Topsport Vlaanderen on a high when he powered to a win on stage 3 of the Tour de l’Eurometropole. In a hugely confusing bunch sprint, he sped down the right-hand side of the road and managed to hold off the Cofidis pair of Michael van Staeyen and Louis Verhelst to take the win. Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) retained the lead on the eve of the final stage.

 

The 2015 season has been a big breakthrough for Edward Theuns who was one of the big revelations of the spring season. In addition to a stage win in the 4 Days of Dunkirk and a win in the Ronde van Drenthe, he achieved numerous top 10 results and starred in the cobbled classics.

 

It was only a matter of time before he would be picked up by a WorldTour team and it was no surprise that Trek could announce the signing of the talented Belgian. However, they must have started to worry slightly as he has been far from his best level in the second half of the year.

 

Now it seems that he is on track to end the season well after he won today’s third stage of the Tour de l’Eurometropole in a hectic and confusing bunch sprint. After his fourth place finish yesterday, he benefited from the fact that no one managed to control the sprint before he powered down the finishing straight to take his third win of the season and mark himself out as an outsider for Paris-Tours.

 

It has been an extremely fast and hectic start to the stage where it took more than ninety kilometres for a break to be formed. When the elastic snapped, it was a formidable 9-rider group that animated the finishing circuits and it required very hard work to bring the final escapees back just after the 10km to go mark.

 

At this point, Tinkoff-Saxo had taken control, with Manuele Boaro and Matteo Tosatto taking some huge turns on the front until the Russian team was passed by Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r). The Frenchman quickly disappeared as the LottoNL-Jumbo train came to the fore but they deliberately backed off, allowing Hollenstein to take over for IAM. He set the pace while the LottoNL and Lotto Soudal trains were preparing themselves further back.

 

Hollenstein ended his work with 5km to go and this led to a bit of confusion as no one wanted to start the lead-out too early. It was LottoNL-Jumbo that finally took the initiative, with Maarten Wynants hitting the front.

 

Wynants se the pace until FDJ passed him with two kilometres to go. An MTN rider tried to take control but it was Lotto Soudal that proved their strength, winning the battle for the front positions.

 

Sean De Bie and Tosh van der Sande were riding on the front, followed by the LottoNL pair of Moreno Hofland and Tom Van Asbroeck. The former took over but started to fade, allowing the FDJ duo of Loorrenzo Mazin and Marc Sarreau to come to the fore.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo came out on top as Michael Gogl led Nikolai Truov into a great position but it was still too early and so it was a Cofidis rider on the front as they passed the flamme rouge. He led his sprinters Michael van Staeyen and Louis Verhelst into the perfect position but it was Theuns who powered down the right-hand side of the road to take the win, with the Cofidis pair having to settle for second and third respectively.

 

Alexis Gougeard finished safely in the bunch and so defended his 3-second lead over Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) with just one stage to go. However, the short, intense stage is a difficult one as it ends with seven laps of a difficult finishing circuit with the Croix Jubaru climb and as there are bonus seconds on offer at the top the final two times, all is still to play for in the Belgian stage race.

 

A flat stage

After yesterday’s hilly stage, it was a flatter affair in stage 3 which brought the riders over 178km from Blankenberge to Neuwpoort. There were early climbs at the 47km and 82.1km marks but apart from that, the roads were flat. The stage ended with three laps of a 17.4km finishing circuit.

 

It was another sunny day when the riders gathered for the start of the flattest stage of the race. One rider was absent as Antwan Tolhoek (Tinkoff-Saxo) who has been ill, didn’t sign in. Rick Zabel (BMC) had bad luck as he crashed even before the official start and left the race with what was probably a broken collarbone.

 

Lots of attacks

Wanty and Wallonie rode on the front in the early part of the race as the pace was furious right from the beginning, with numerous riders trying to escape. A 7-rider group briefly got clear but they were quickly brought back after 9km of racing.

 

The next move contained a BMC and a Veranclassic rider but that didn’t work either. Simone Antonini (Wanty) also gave it a try but he was brought back. A Roompot rider started a 6-rider move but at the 22km mark, it was back together.

 

Roelandts wins the sprint

A Topsport rider initiated a brief 5-rider move before Brian van Goethem (Roompot) and Felix Pouilly (Roubaix) gave it a go. However, they were brought back immediately.

 

As the peloton approached the first intermediate sprint, teams like Lotto Soudal, Tinkoff-Saxo and FDJ started to gather near the front and it was Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) who picked up three seconds by beating Maxime Daniel (Ag2r) and his teammate Jens Debusschere.

 

KOM points for Habeaux

Immediately after the intermediate sprint, 15 riders managed to get clear while Dimitri Claeys (Verandas) worked his way back to the peloton after a mechanical. That move was also neutralized though and instead Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Jérome Baugnies (Wanty Groupe Gobert), Olivier Pardini (Verandas Willems) and Gregroy Habeaux (Wallonie-Bruxelles) escaped on the first climb where Van Lerberghe beat Baugnies, Habeaux and Pardini in the KOM sprint. However, they were brought back just moments later.

 

Olivier Le Gac (FDJ) left the race while the attacking continued and it was Pieter Van Speybroeck, Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Simone Antonini (Wanty Groupe Gobert), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Joeri Calleeuw (Verandas Willems), Gregory Habeaux (Wallonie-Bruxelles) and Dennis Coenen (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) who got clear after 61km of fast racing. They got an advantage of 22 seconds while Bretagne and FDJ led the chase

 

More points for Habeaux

Leopard took over the pace-setting and then Ag2r also came to the fore, keeping the gap around the 20-second mark. With another intermediate sprint coming up, Lotto Soudal took over and they brought it all back together as the peloton entered the final 100km.

 

While Justin Jules (Veranclassic) crashed, the attacking continued and it was all together when Habeaux beat Claeys, Reto Hollenstein (IAM) and Kevin Ista (Wallonie) in the second KOM sprint to strengthen his KOM lead. A few riders were dropped due to the fast pace on the narrow roads.

 

Six rider get clear

As they approached the second intermediate sprint, Christophe Premont (Verandas Willems) Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) and Olivier Chevalier (Wallonie) escaped and they were quickly joined by Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) and Jesper Asselman (Roompot). They were clear when they got to the sprint where Ladagnous beat Chevalier and Leukemans in a photo finish.

 

The peloton finally slowed down to take a natural break which allowed the gap to go out to 1.50 with 80km to go. Lotto Soudal quickly took over the pace-setting and with 70km to go, they had reduced the deficit to 1.36.

 

Furious chase

Thomas De Gendt did a massive work for the Belgian tam which had brought the gap down to 1.20 when they hit the finishing circuit. Here IAM and Roubaix also came to the fore to lend a hand to the Belgian team.

 

The gap came down to only 55 seconds with 55km to go and it was only 35 seconds at the first passage of the finish line. When it was down to just 30 seconds, Gaetan Bille (Verandas Willems), Dennis Coenen and Alphonse Vermote (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) saw an opportunity to try to bridge the gap and they made the junction with 41km to go at a point where the gap was just 21 seconds.

 

Ladagnous wins the sprint

IAM, De Gendt and Roubaix were working extremely hard to try to keep the strong 9-rider break under control but nonetheless the gap went out to a minute as they approached the finish line for the second time. Here Ladagnous beat Bille and Chevalier in the final intermediate sprint while the peloton followed 44 seconds later.

 

The Roubaix and IAM riders were starting to fade and so the Ag2r team of race leader Alexis Gougeard had to join forces with De Gendt as they headed around the circuit for the penultimate time. Katusha also briefly came to the fore.

 

Topsport Vlaanderen take control

The work had an effect as the gap slowly came down. It was 37 seconds with 28km to go and 25 seconds seven kilometres later. It even came down to 14 seconds before a small hesitation allowed it to go out to 25 seconds at the penultimate passage of the line.

 

At this point, Topsport Vlaanderen had taken complete control, lining up their team on the front while Tinkoff-Saxo hid a bit further back. In the break, it was Leukemans doing the lion’s share of the work as his companions were starting to tire.

 

MTN-Qhubeka and Katusha take over

With 15km to go, MTN-Qhubeka took over. Nic Dougall took some huge turns on the front before the big figure of Maxim Belkov came to lend a hand for Katusha.

 

Despite the hard work in the peloton, the gap was had gone out to 28 seconds with 13km to go. MTN-Qhubeka and Katusha continued to set the pace until the gap was only 10 seconds with 10km to go.

 

The break is caught

Here Tinkoff-Saxo took control with their entire team while Leukemans, Ladagnous, Vermote, Asselman, Chevalier and Coenen decided to sit up. Vanbilsen, Bille and Premont tried to survive, with the former quickly dropping his two companions.

 

Bille was joined by a Vastgoedservice rider managed to rejoin Vanbilsen but just as this happened, Tinkoff-Saxo had brought it all back together. That set the scene for the bunch sprint and it was Theuns who came out on top.

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