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Having been given a perfect lead-out by Stuyven and Van Poppel, Theuns narrowly held off McLay and Dehaes in the bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Belgium Tour; Van Aert survived the chaos and retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

BELGIUM TOUR

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DANIEL MCLAY

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EDWARD THEUNS

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KENNY DE HAES

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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WOUT VAN AERT

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26.05.2016 @ 18:14 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a few near-misses, Edward Theuns finally took the first win for his new Trek-Segafredo team when he emerged as the fastest in the bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Baloise Belgium Tour. Having been given the perfect lead-out by Jasper Stuyven and Boy van Poppel, he jumped onto the Lotto Soudal train before narrowly holding off Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Kenny Dehaes (Wanty) in a photo finish. Wout Van Aert (Crelan) avoided a late crash and so retained the lead.

 

In 2015, Edward Theuns was one of the biggest revelations of the season. The talented Belgian proved his class in both bunch sprints and the cobbled classics and emerged as one of the most consistent riders in the peloton. He achieved several top 10 results, with the main achievements being his victories at the Ronde van Drenthe and stages at the 4 Days of Dunkirk and the Tour de l’Eurometropole.

 

The results made him one of the hottest topics on the transfer market and it was Trek-Segafredo that won the battle for this signature. This year he has fully confirmed his potential but the win has always eluded despite several strong showings, most notably at Dwars door Vlaanderen and at Paris-Nice.

 

Following a short break, Theuns was close to victory on the final stage of the Tour of Croatia where he came up short against a formidable Sondre Holst Enger. Today he finally took that elusive first win when he won the traditional uphill sprint in Knokke-Heist on the first stage of the Baloise Belgium Tour.

 

Despite the lack of wind, it was a very nervous day in the saddle and it required constant attention to stay near the front on the flat course that ended with two laps of a 25km circuit. At the penultimate passage of the line, early attackers Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) and Ludwig De Winter (Wallonie) hung onto a small 35-second advantage and it was Wout Van Aert’s Crelan team that controlled things as they started the final lap.

 

The Golden Kilometre that offers three intermediate sprints within one kilometre was coming up and so things were starting to heat up as the GC riders came out to play. Van Goethem was allowed to win all sprints uncontested but behind it was a big battle.

 

Van Aert tried to go for second place in the first sprint but he was beaten by Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) who picked up the first second on offer. Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) launched an immediate attack and even though Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) gave chase, the lanky Belgian could take third in the second sprint. However, he was unable to keep Benoot at bay and the Lotto Soudal captain passed his rival before the final sprint where he picked up the final second.

 

Things calmed down in the peloton but the actions had nullified the gap and so the break was brought back with 17.5km to go. Lotto Soudal patrolled the front as everybody wanted to be in a good position. Meanwhile, Björn Thurau (Wanty) suffered an untimely puncture.

 

3M briefly took charge before lotto Soudal again hit the front with Frederik Frison. He didn’t react when Jack Bauer (Cannondale) attacked 13km from home but the move was doomed as the Kiwi could only stay ahead for around 2km.

 

Entering the final 10km, Lotto Soudal and Cofidis were in control before Sergey Lagutin took over for Katusha, moving up next to the Lotto Soudal train. Frederik  Backart then did a massive pull for Wanty before Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep) hit the front in a technical section.

 

The plan was to use the turns to set Tony Martin up for an attack and the TT specialist made his move with 8km to go. Lars Boom (Astana) bridged across but was left to fight alone when the German sat up.

 

Boom was quickly brought back too as Stig Broeckx hit the front for Lotto Soudal and for a few kilometres, he set the pace next to the Roompot train. Astana moved up in the middle but it was the Dutch team that won the battle, lining up their troops with 4km to go.

 

Astana took over before Wanty came to the fore with their train. That allowed them to avoid a big crash that split the field with 1.7km to go.

 

Trek also avoided the carnage and they stroke with 1.5km to go. Jasper Stuyven, Boy Van Poppel and Theuns strung out the field and it was the former who led the peloton under the flamme rouge.

 

Van Poppel did the lead-out but the American team was running out of steam. Hence, they were passed by Marcel Sieberg who was doing the lead-out for Kris Boeckmans. However, Theuns was attentive and managed to push the Belgian off his teammate’s wheel. From there he launched his sprint and he narrowly held off the fast-finishing Daniel McLay and Kenny Dehaes who had to settle for second and third respectively.

 

Van Aert finished safely in the bunch and so retained his 2-second advantage over Martin. He faces his first big test tomorrow in the second stage which is a like a mini Tour of Flanders. After a flat start, the riders will do two laps of a 55.6km finishing circuit that contains the hellingen of Valkenberg, Leberg and Berendries and the pave sectors of the Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat. The final 10km are without any obstacles but the finish is technical with two late turns.

 

A well-known finale

After yesterday’s prologue, the sprinters were expected to come to the fore in stage 1 which brought the riders over 177.5km from Buggenhout to the traditional finish in Knokke-Heist. There was not even a single categorized climb on the menu on a day in flat terrain. The stage ended with two laps of a 25km finishing circuit that ended with the well-known uphill finishing straight along the seafront.

 

 

All riders were still in the race when the peloton left Buggenhout under a sunny sky. The first Primus Checkpoint sprint that counted for the sprints jersey came already after 6.8km and so things were kept together until that point. Here Piotr Havik (3M) beat Benjamin Verraes (Cibel), Van Keirsbulck, Amaury Capiot (Topsport) and Jens Adams (Crelan) in the battle for the points.

 

Two riders get clear

After the sprint, there were lots of attacks but no one could escape until Van Goethem and De Winter made their move. As the peloton quickly slowed down, they built an advantage of 3.11 after an hour of racing.

 

Unsurprisingly, it was Crelan that took control in the peloton keeping the gap stable for the next hour. The peloton set a solid pace as they covered the first two hours at an average speed of 41km/H.

 

Crelan in control

With the gap still 3.12, Astana took over the pace-setting but soon Crelan were back on the front, starting to reduce the gap. When they hit the circuit with 60km to go, it has been reduced to less than 3 minutes but as it wasn’t too stressful yet, Hugo Hofstetter (Cofidis) easily rejoined the group after a small crash.

 

After De Winter had beaten Van Goethem in the second Primus sprint, 3M tried to do the lead-out for Havik. However, the Dutch team failed completely and it was Capiot who took third place ahead of 3M’s Jaap De Man Laurent Evrard.

 

Direct Energie ride hard

The action had reduced the gap to just 1.30 and Thurau briefly tried to attack with Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen). However, Direct Energie decided to do some damage and so easily brought the pair back.

 

Thomas Voeckler took some huge turns for the French teams and led the peloton across the line for the first time, just 1.10 behind the leaders. Meanwhile, sprinter Jonas Ahlstrand (Cofidis) suffered a puncture and was brought back to the peloton by his team.

 

A big fight for position

With 45km to go, the gap was less than a minute and it was a big battle for position as IAM, Fortuneo, Topsport and Vastgoedservice moved up next to the Direct Energie riders. The fast pace meant that the fap was down to just 30 seconds with 35km to go where Lotto Soudal, Wanty and Topsport hit the front.

 

De Wenter beat Van Goethem in the final Primus sprint before Capiot beat Verraes and Havik in the battle for third place. Moments later, Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) suffered a mechanical and had to work hard to get back to the front. He made it in time for the next passage of the line where the gap was still 30 seconds but in the end, it was Theuns who came out on top.

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