Former world champ Michal Kwiatkowski sprints to victory after a long-range attack with Peter Sagan at E3 Harelbeke.

Team Sky could not have asked for a better Friday, as Michal Kwiatkowski out-sprinted Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan to win E3 Harelbeke, while his teammate, Ian Stannard claimed third. This came less than an hour after Wout Poels won stage 5 of Volta a Catalunya in Spain.

With 30 kilometers to go, the world champion duo broke away from a lead group of heavy favorites, including four Etixx – Quick-Step riders. Their gap was slim in the finale, but it was enough to afford a thrilling two-up sprint, which the Pole won handily.

“I guess I was really motivated,” said Kwiatkowski at the finish in Harelbeke, Belgium. “I mean, I did my best — you know I was perfectly protected by my mates. Stannard was at the front. Honestly I knew that I had really good legs today and that I had to go for the win. There was no other option.”

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With about 60 kilometers to go, a large group of favorites was off the front, with half of the day’s cobbled hills remaining. Fabian Cancellara had dropped a chain and missed the move. He and his Trek – Segafredo team were chasing frantically to bridge the 40-second gap.

Etixx – Quick-Step fought tooth and nail to keep Cancellara out of the front group. Coming over the top of the Paterberg, the Swiss strongman put in a huge effort, trying to bridge to the front group, bringing along Etixx’s Zdenek Stybar, who was off the back due to a flat tire on the Eikenberg.

Niki Terpstra, another Etixx man, drove the front group’s pace over the Oude Kwaremont, and after that famous climb, Cancellara’s chase was 33 seconds behind with about 37 kilometers to go.

Finally, with about 32 kilometers left, Cancellara’s group rejoined the front of the race on a stretch of wide-open road.

But as soon as the group hit the next hill, the Karnemelkbeekstraat, Sagan hit out, followed by Kwiatkowski. The duo built its lead to 22 seconds by the final 25 kilometers.

E3’s last challenge was the Tiegemberg climb, and when Kwiatkowski and Sagan reached the top, their advantage was 30 seconds. With 10 kilometers to go, the gap was a shade bigger, 36 seconds.

Terpstra continued to tirelessly chase behind, with three Etixx teammates in the group. Though the gap fell into the teens, Sagan and Kwiatkowski would not be caught. In the closing five kilometers, Tom Boonen went to the front, but the pursuit was fruitless.

With one kilometer left, Sagan was on the front. A patient Kwiatkowski jumped with 300 meters to go. Sagan could not hold the wheel and Sky’s former world champ won the day. “I didn’t look back, I just went full gas for the finish,” Kwiatkowski added. “I know the feeling of Peter [Sagan] to wear the world champion jersey as well. It’s very difficult.”

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