Dion Smith has finished 9th in stage 4 of the BinckBank Tour.  Smith’s 4th top ten result of the 2019 season saw him climb up to 14th overall as Lotto Soudal’s Tim Wellens took the win.

After three stages of sprinting dominated by BORA-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett, Houffalize hosted a different challenge that saw some of the GC contenders take centre stage.  The short 96.2km stage featured three big laps of rolling roads that certainly appealed to a breakaway.  Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Iljo Keisse and Lotto Soudal’s Stan Dewulf were the initial protagonists at the front of the race, attacking and building a lead in excess of 2 minutes before the race really began to take shape behind them.

The day was a bit of a brutal one weather-wise, but the likes of Greg Van Avermaet of CCC Team, Zdenek Stybar of Deceuninck-QuickStep, Jay McCarthy of BORA-Hansgrohe Simon Clarke of EF Education First and Laurens De Plus of Jumbo-Visma were all taking a proactive role at the front of the race, forcing the issue in a small group that threatened to run away with the stage altogether.  With 50km to go the leading duo had been caught and it was onwards from there, but the decisive attack came from Tim Wellens with 37km remaining.

The Belgian went on the offensive solo, taking advantage of the rolling roads but then deciding to sit up and wait for the rest of the group that had swelled behind him, including Dion Smith of Mitchelton-SCOTT.  Jumbo-Visma, Deceuninck-QuickStep and Lotto Soudal pulled them along but it was Laurens De Plus who continued to pour on the pressure.  With 29km to go on another rise he cracked the group and took Wellens and Marc Hirschi of Team Sunweb with him and while Ivan Garcia Cortina of Bahrain Merida also managed to get across the rest were now fighting for minor places as the quartet built their lead up to 35 seconds with 23km to go.

At the Golden Kilometre, providing a series of bonus seconds, Cortina finally started cracking himself as Wellens took the first bonus seconds, De Plus the second and Hirschi the third with a valiant Cortina recovering sufficiently to take the final sprint before he would be dropped.

The four riders continued working together until another attack from De Plus saw Cortina finally dropped.  Hirschi and Wellens went across to join the Belgian and formed a trio that would stay together all the way to the final kilometre where there was sufficient time in hand to play games in the sprint finish.

At the flag Wellens sat on the back as De Plus came through with the Lotto Soudal rider careful to make sure he didn’t put himself in a vulnerable position on the front in the run in to the finish.  De Plus began to wind things up but a powerful acceleration from Hirschi saw him almost certain of getting a stage win.  But Wellens played the patient game, timing his effort perfectly to take the stage win by just a handful of inches.  

Dion Smith finished 9th just behind Søren Kragh Andersen of Team Sunweb at the head of a group of thirteen riders who finished 33 seconds behind Wellens.  The result means that the Kiwi moved from 48th overall to 14th; 49 seconds behind Wellens who now holds the overall lead as well.

Afterwards Smith positive about his performance, knowing that under the circumstances it was hard to gauge where his performance for the day would be.  “Today was always shaped up to be a GC day.  The plan was to get as far into the stage as possible with as many guys as we could, and put ourselves in the position to be present at the front and see what we could do.  With the nature of the course it was hard to have a specific plan,” Smith said via the team website.

“I wasn’t sure where I was in terms of my shape, I knew I was fit but being so punchy all day it was hard to know exactly.  But it turns out everyone else was the same, if not worse than me, apart from the front guys who were just too strong.”

“I am happy I could sneak into the top 10, it’s always nice.”

Stage results:

RankLast NameFirst NameCountryTeamResult
3DE PLUSLaurensBEL       TEAM JUMBO – VISMA2:20:46
5NAESENOliverBEL       AG2R LA MONDIALE2:21:04
6ANDERSENMichael ValgrenDEN       TEAM DIMENSION DATA2:21:07

126FRAMEAlexNZL       TREK – SEGAFREDO2:35:48


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