Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) sprinted to a win and the overall race lead at Dreidaagase de Panne-Koksijde on Tuesday, after bridging up to a small breakaway move in the closing kilometers of the 202km race.
“I saw we had Sven [Erik Bystrom] in front, but I know he didn’t really have the best sprint,” said Kristoff. “It was not perfect, but he did a very good race. I could bridge up; I made it up to the first group, and we worked full-gas to make it all the way to the finish.
“I did not know how fresh [Jens Debusschere] was at the end. … He went just when I wanted to go so we went at the same time. I had a little more speed in the legs at the end, so I could take him.”
Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) went off the front with a little under 50 kilometers left to race in the stage from De Panne to Zottegem, Belgium.
“It took a while before a group got away,” said Debusschere. “I was part of that breakaway, although that wasn’t the plan before the stage. I was riding at the front of the peloton and jumped along; it was safer than in the bunch, and my teammates didn’t have to work. I also tried to save energy. When Lars Bak bridged to the front we set up a duo time trial.”
The two were joined by Sean De Bie (Lotto-Soudal), Sven Erik Bystrom (Katusha), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) with 22 kilometers to go.
With 10 kilometers left, the lead group of six hit the Eikenmolen climb with a 40-second lead over the peloton.
Bystrom went to the front and whipped up the pace, but the break remained together.
A few riders from the pack tried to give chase at the crest of the final hill, but their efforts were for naught, as Katusha was sure to infiltrate the attempt to bridge. The gap held at around 40 seconds.
Heading into the final five kilometers, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) did a big turn at the front of the peloton. The gap was 35 seconds.
Stefan Kueng (BMC) attacked the peloton with 2.2km left, trying to bridge the 26-second gap.
With the finish imminent, Bystrom whipped up the speed in the break, leading out the sprint for teammate and fellow Norwegian, Kristoff.
De Bie moved to the front before the final sweeping right-hand corner.
Debusschere challenged but he couldn’t come around Kristoff in the finale and settled for second place. Devolder finished third.
Kueng held on to finish just ahead of the peloton.
The race continues Wednesday with a 217km stage from Zottegem to Koksijde, with Kristoff wearing the leader’s jersey, something he hadn’t expected.
“It was not the plan this morning. We’ll see how it is tomorrow,” the day’s winner said.
“It never hurts to win an extra victory, I’m really happy now. I felt it was the best team effort we had so far this season.”