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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere was smiling bigger than ever after another perfect tactical display in Friday’s E3 BinckBank Classic.
Not only did Zdenek Stybar deliver victory, but it was northern classics protégé Bob Jungels who set it up.
“We were not sure to bring Jungels to these Flemish classics, but what he did today was perfect to set up the victory,” Lefevere said. “He proved again he is a big rider.”
Jungels already made a name for himself in the Ardennes classics, winning last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège with panache. The ever-improving 26-year-old revealed another layer to his skillset earlier this year when he won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with a long solo attack.
On Friday, Jungels bridged up to the day’s main breakaway late in the race and then tried to repeat the Kuurne tactic with another solo drive to the line. This time he had the full force of the spring classics peloton chasing behind. He was eventually neutralized.
His effort, however, allowed teammate and eventual winner Stybar to sit on the wheels and save his legs for the final sprint.
“It is not a shame to be caught by that select group of riders,” Jungels said at the line. “We decided to race, and we won. Tonight we will have a glass of champagne. No one [on the team] will care who won.”
Jungels was a late addition to the team’s quiver of weapons for the northern classics. Typically, he races the more favorable Ardennes races, but with the departure of last year’s Tour of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra to Direct Energie, Jungels needed to reshuffle his schedule.
He came blasting out of the gates with a solo victory at Kuurne and will race next Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen and De Ronde on Sunday, both for the first time.
“We came here to win with the team, and that’s what we did,” Jungels said. “It is my kind of racing — to dare and to try. I am happy it worked out.”
Jungels was the key ingredient to another Deceuninck-Quick-Step victory. The team has been on a roll this spring, and it was fitting that Stybar was the victor on Friday. The pair barnstormed Belgium’s opening weekend, with Stybar winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a day ahead of Jungels’s Kuurne victory.
“What Bob did is really impressive,” Stybar said. “I don’t want to say it was easy from behind [after Jungels attacked], but we just had to cover some attacks and be in good position in the key places.”
Jungels rode into the day’s main breakaway, but he wasn’t just thinking about playing a helper role. He uncorked his solo attack to put pressure on the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and also to take his shot at glory. A world-class time trialist, he was leading by nearly one minute with about 30km to go. With that kind of head start, anything is possible.
“I am not going to win a race in the sprint, that’s for sure,” he said. “I had the same feeling a few weeks ago at Kuurne. It was out of the breakaway. I knew ‘Stybie’ [Stybar] was there, and when he came up, I just played his teammate.”
The victory is a boon for Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s enviable run across the classics, and another victory in the spirit of teamwork. Everyone insists that any rider can win, so long as it is one of their own.
For Jungels, his taste on the cobbles could be the start of something new.
“The pressure is kind of the same in the Ardennes,” he said. “Coming to the races we have a favorite role as a team. It’s not always easy to live up to that. That comes with some pressure and I am more than happy that I could deliver here, especially at Harelbeke, which is one of the harder ones.”
As Jungels chatted to journalists on the finish line, teammates stopped to grab his shoulder and shake his hand.
“You were so strong,” said teammate Yves Lampaert. “Good job.”