BMC Racing Team and Stefan Küng successfully defended the overall race lead on Binck Bank Tour stage 3 after a chaotic finale which saw Loïc Vliegen in the mix in the reduced sprint to secure a top five finish.
After one hour of racing on the 185km stage from Blankenberge to Ardooie, a five-rider breakaway had extended an advantage of over three minutes, but with another bunch sprint up for grabs, the peloton kept a close eye on the front of the race.
The gap continued to hover at around the three-minute mark over the first half of the day before, heading into the final 80km, the breakaway’s lead was dramatically reduced with an increase in pace at the front of the peloton seeing the five leaders pulled to within one minute.
BMC Racing Team continued to help set the pace and keep race leader, Küng in a good position as the main bunch sat up slightly and allowed the gap to go back out to 1’45” with 60km of racing still to go.
The chase was quickly reignited and just 10km later, with the sprinters’ teams setting a fierce pace, the breakaway was once again within sight, but the game of cat and mouse continued.
As the bell rang to mark the start of the final 15km finishing circuit, the leaders were sitting just 25 seconds in front of the peloton but it wasn’t until 6.5km to go, that the group, which had spent the majority of the day at the head of the race, was caught.
The sprinters’ teams were immediately vying for position and the predicted bunch sprint looked inevitable. However the intense speed of the peloton and with rain making the surface slippery, riders were soon scattered across the road as they headed into the final 2km.
Sensing an opportunity to go for the stage win, Jempy Drucker attacked and was able to put distance between himself and a select group of riders after a crash split the field on the final corner before the flamme rouge.
Drucker looked strong out in front, but a determined chase from the sprinters behind saw him caught just 100m from the line with Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe) ultimately taking the win.
Vliegen was well positioned in the group when the sprint was eventually launched and was able to show his strength and power in a competitive field to take fifth place on the stage.
After being protected by his BMC Racing Team teammates all day, Küng negotiated a chaotic finale and crossed the line safely in the main bunch behind the eventual winner to maintain his position at the top of the General Classification.
Quotes From the Finish Line
“It was a pretty stressful and nervous day. There was a little bit of wind but not that much. Everyone was nervous and you could also tell that everyone was in good shape because they started panicking early.”
“I need to say a big thanks to my team. They did a really good job today. First pulling at the front and then protecting me and keeping me out of trouble when it was a little chaotic and overall today went quite well for us. Jempy Drucker tried something and Loïc Vliegen was up there in the sprint so it was a good day for the team and I am happy to still be in the leader’s jersey.”
“It is nice to keep the jersey, and we will try to continue to hold on to it but Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe) looked in strong form, and now he is within five seconds of the overall lead. You never know what will happen so we will keep fighting and I will enjoy another day in the jersey tomorrow.”
“I was there with Jempy Drucker going into the final kilometer, and we saw that the bunch hesitated for a moment and that’s when Jempy attacked. I then stayed in the wheels and focused on the sprint in the end. I thought I could do the sprint, but I was a little bit blocked so I couldn’t give it everything I had. I am happy with fifth place and also happy with my form as we look ahead to the rest of the race. It was a nervous day, and in the end, it was a chaotic final, and we needed to fight a lot for position.”
Sports Director, Valerio Piva:
“Unfortunately the rain started around 4km from the finish and from then it was really dangerous and chaotic. We controlled the race from the beginning and then heading into the second half of the race the sprinters’ teams came up to help. The race was under control, but because of the shower, the race was chaos at the end and with the late crash, the time was neutralized.”
“Jempy Drucker made a good move by attacking and was just caught in the closing meters. Loïc Vliegen was also good in the finish and took fifth. Our plan was to do the sprint with Jempy, and we saw him try to win the stage in the final. We also were able to defend the jersey, and although Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe) was able to take ten bonus seconds today, everyone is still motivated to work hard and fight for Stefan Küng’s position at the top of the GC. Tomorrow will be a similar day to today I think, but then the next few stages are very difficult, so we will see what happens.”