Wearing the race leader’s jersey, Alexander Kristoff won again at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, delivering a punishing long-range sprint in Koksijde, Belgium on Wednesday.
The Norwegian rider credited his team for protecting his overall race lead throughout stage 2 and shepherding him to the front for the final sprint.
“It was not easy; it was a hard day, a lot of wind,” said Kristoff. “I did not feel so strong, but in the end [my team] delivered me perfect. I’m really happy.”
A large group of 12 riders went off the front early in the 217-kilometer stage and at one point had a gap of over seven minutes.
With 40km to go, the gap was under 20 seconds, and the front group began to splinter under the pressure. Seven riders survived off the front, as the race passed the finish for the final three circuits around Koksijde.
For the next 15 kilometers, the gap held around 35 seconds, as the break desperately worked to stay away.
The peloton began to whip up the pace, in large part due to Lampre-Merida’s efforts, and with 20 kilometers left, the break was caught and counterattacks began.
Dennis Coenen (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), Alessandro Malaguti (Nippo-Vini Fantini), and Martin Mortensen (Cult Energy) got away and soon had a 20-second gap with 10 kilometers left.
MTN-Qhubeka took to the front of the peloton and chased in earnest. Team Sky, FDJ, and Katusha also moved up to prepare for the sprint.
The three leaders dangled off the front, 11 seconds up the road, with five kilometers left.
First, Mortensen was caught, and then the remaining duo were brought back with 2.9km remaining.
With 1.5km to go, Bradley Wiggins took to the reins to drive Sky’s sprint train.
Arnaud Démare (FDJ) moved to the front in the final kilometer, leading the field through the final, sharp left-hand corner.
But it was all Kristoff in the last 200 meters. The race leader delivered an impressive, long sprint, holding off Team Sky’s Elia Viviani, who tried to come up the right side, on the barriers.
“It was quite technical,” Kristoff said of the sprint. “I could start from Modolo’s wheel. I was leading the whole sprint and no one could come around.
“When I started, [Modolo] started also. You never know if someone is coming fast at the end. For sure it was not too many fresh legs at the end.”
Viviani was second, and Shane Archbold (Bora-Argon18) finished third.
Heading into the final day of racing on Thursday, Kristoff keeps the overall race lead, 16 seconds ahead of Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing), and 17 seconds clear of Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto-Soudal). He’ll need to survive two more stages to keep the lead — a 111.4km stage around De Panne in the morning and a 14.2km individual time trial in the afternoon.
“The goal is on Sunday; we will see,” Kristoff said, referring to Ronde van Vlaanderen. “I’ll try to keep [the overall lead] of course. There are some good time trialists just behind me.
“I can win it, but I am not the only one who can.”
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.