Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) managed to hold off the combined attacks of Astana duo Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko to win the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne after a tough day out in the rain and hills of Flanders.
The trio got away in the finale of the 198km stage that included 12 of the toughest climbs. Britain’s Luke Rowe (Team Sky) was also part of the decisive attack but punctured on the final climb of the Muur de Geraardsbergen. He finished fifth just behind 20 year-old Dane Mads Pedersen (Stölting Service Group) who had won the Under 23 version of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. They finished 29 down, with a group of 35 riders finishing at 36 seconds. Those time differences could prove decisive in the final two days of racing.
Westra and Lutsenko tried to out manvouvre Kristoff but were also working to gain time on the chasers. As a result they struggled in the finale and Kristoff had no problems in leading out and then winning the sprint.
Kristoff missed Gent-Wevelgem due to a fever but looked back on track during the stage. He now leads the overall ahead of Lutsenko by one second with Westra third overall at six seconds.
Wednesday’s 211km second stage is from Zottegem to Koksijde and features the Kemmelberg and several other climbs after 110km of racing before three finishing circuits on the coast in Koksijde.
It was Kristoff’s sixth victory of the 2016 season after he won three stages at the Tour of Qatar and two at the Tour of Oman. He admitted it had been a hard day out, with fast, aggressive racing, rain and hailstone making a day for the tough men.
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