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E3 Saxo Bank Classic: Experience leads to podium for Stefan Küng

Next up for the Groupama-FDJ rider is Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Experience helped 28-year-old Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) to a podium in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday afternoon.

The Jumbo-Visma duo of Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte was riding on another level, but Küng outsmarted the chase group with a late attack in the streets of Harelbeke.

It’s the first time Küng has cracked the podium at the spring classics despite being ever-present during the past few years.

“People started to say that I’m always there in the finale but can never do a result,” Küng told VeloNews. “In the end you always need some luck but today the experience helped me. It’s nothing if you’re always riding third or fourth position and scared that somebody is going to ride away. If somebody goes it’s also a little bit of luck. So I just wanted to get into the last position of the group and then roll over the group from behind when they don’t expect you. That worked out well. A podium result is always nice. Obviously winning is better but the strongest rider won today. Chapeau!”

Küng heralded the performance from the men in yellow during Friday’s race.

“These men were already so strong on the Taaienberg,” he said. “When seven men were riding away they already had three men up there. They used their numbers to perfection. They took the initiative at the Paterberg. Tiesj Benoot did a leadout there and I was riding in fifth or sixth position. We’re riding in the gutter over there on the left hand side and you don’t see much of what happens in front. I didn’t even see that they were away. What can you do? There’s no other option there: if you go on the cobbles you lose momentum, it’s a big difference.”

Once the Jumbo-Visma duo was up the road there were still more than 40km left to race. At the Oude Kwaremont the Groupama-FDJ riders in the chase group tried to bridge back up.

Valentin Madouas set the pace on the 2200-meter cobbled climb and then Küng took over the command.

“There was nothing to do against them,’ Küng said. “They were so strong. I tried on the Kwaremont, on the top. We were coming close there for a moment but they were so strong and just increased the gap again in the end. The strongest guys were in front. I gave my best to race to be up there to be active all day. In the end there was nothing to do against them. In the finale I pokered a bit.

“I take a lot of positives out of this race,” he said. “It’s good to get a podium. It’s good for me to play my cards well in the finale. I got ill after Paris-Nice and suffered from a severe bronchitis. Tuesday I started training again so it’s great to see that I go so well in the race. For eight days I couldn’t do any hard training rides. It plays with your mental state. Today I felt really good, also on the climbs. This is a good sign for the upcoming races.”

Next up for Küng is Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields on Sunday. The race suits him well with a fifth and sixth place as recent results. The experience that led him to a podium in Harelbeke might deliver a podium result in Wevelgem once again.