Peter Sagan has continued his winning form in stage 3 of the BinckBank Tour and closed the gap towards overall leader Stefan Küng.  Sagan’s victory in stage 3 is his second of this year’s race, and came ahead of Edward Theuns and Rudy Barbier.  Dion Smith produced a strong performance to finish 15th on the stage.

 

Bewley & Orica-SCOTT set tempo in bunch

 

Another sprint stage was on the cards in the 185km that separated Blankenberge from the finish line in Ardooie.  A loop to complete at the begin was also bookended by a loop to tackle at the end, with two laps of the finishing circuit to complete.  A group of five riders broke clear of the peloton to form the breakaway of the day, with Frederik Backaert of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Piet Allegaert of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Sander Cordeel of Veranda’s Willems Crelan, Elmar Reinders of Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij and Kristijan Koren of Cannondale-Drapac heading up the road.

The peloton idled quite comfortably behind them, although not idling enough to concede any great amount of time.  Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert suffered a mechanical issue with some 80km of racing remaining, but the Kiwi was able to get going and be back in the peloton with no trouble at all.  In fact until around 50km to go the pace seemed reasonably pedestrian, with the break enjoying a near 2 minute advantage with 70km of racing to go.

Sam Bewley of Orica-SCOTT led his team towards the front of the peloton which was being led jointly by Lotto Soudal and BMC Racing.  Also present were riders from Bahrain-Merida, Bora-Hansgrohe, Astana and Quick-Step Floors; with Marcel Kittel hoping for a significantly better performance than what he’d produced in stage 1.

 

Sharp acceleration threatens bunch unity

 

Approaching the 62km to go mark the gap had come down slightly to 1.44mins.  For the next few kilometres the pace continued quite comfortably but that all changed with about 57km to go as Orica-SCOTT put in a sharp acceleration which stretched the peloton right out and threatened to fracture the bunch.

It didn’t work but it did reduce the break’s lead by about 50 seconds.  The gap then proceeded to crumble still further down to 12 seconds before stabilising a little more at 20 seconds with 50km left to race.  Not wanting to catch the break too early though the pace in the peloton did drop and the break were able to stretch their lead back out to 1.20mins with 40km left to race.  The peloton weren’t concerned with picking up bonus seconds at the Golden Kilometre, but Piet Allegaert certainly was, grabbing maximum points and bonus seconds at all three points.  From here the chase began to ramp a little more earnestly.

Trek-Segafredo, Katusha-Alpecin, FDJ, Bora-Hansgrohe were now the main teams on the front of the peloton along with AG2R La Mondiale.  The gap had dropped below a minute with a little over 26km left to race, and though the pace was strong it wasn’t threatening as Orica-SCOTT had tried to make it earlier in the stage.

Frederik Backaert and Piet Allegaert in the breakaway during stage 3, photo Sirotti
Catch is made as sprinters jostle for position

 

The riders were now on the finishing circuit and gradually making their way closer to the finish.  The leading group continued to function together, and with 1 lap of about 15km remaining had 26 seconds in hand.  That gap remained as the race reached 10km to go, but Katusha-Alpecin were leading the charge with Tony Martin; and the break were well within the sights of the peloton.

With 8km to go and the gap down to single digits, Elmar Reinders launched a last gasp move that brought Sander Cordeel along with him.  But it only prolonged the inevitable catch which came with 6.4km left to race.

So it was down to the sprinters, and with the wide roads there was no shortage of candidates willing to try and take control of the proceedings.  Orica-SCOTT were there again, so too Trek-Segafredo, LottoNL-Jumbom AG2R La Mondiale and Bora-Hansgrohe, but with less than 5km to go and the sudden acceleration of Team Sunweb to make their way to the front, the uncertainty as to who had real control continued.  The rain was now also coming down, making matters very interesting and potentially a little tricky.  This was reflected in the drop in speed that the peloton made to get around the tight right hander with just over 3km left.

 

Crash disrupts sprint as Sagan comes out on top

 

Arnaud Demare was visible in his French national champin’s jersey but he seemed a little out of position; although was gradually working forward.  Peter Sagan was sat comfortably on third wheel, with Trek-Segafredo alongside too; in a way that looked like it was playing perfectly into the hands of the world champion.  2km from the finish Orica-SCOTT again surged forwards, as Arnaud Demare dropped right back and out of contention.

With just over 1km to go a crash brought down a few riders including a couple from Cannondale-Drapac, leaving a much reduced group at the front.  On the front also was one solo rider from BMC Racing.  Jean-Pierre Drucker was left on the front, but he was running out of road as the sprinters opened things up.  Peter Sagan had to do a lot of work to eventually pass Drucker and then charge onwards, but no one was able to pass him and the Slovakian took his second stage win a lot more comfortably this time around.

Again there was no sign of Marcel Kittel, while Andre Greipel of Lotto Soudal was also way out of contention.  Dion Smith crossed the line in 15th place ahead of Drucker and Rick Zabel.

 

Photo:  Sirotti

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