Edging closer and closer to his 100th professional victory, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan took his 99th win today on stage 3 of the BinckBank Tour. While the Slovak rider made it look easy – his BORA-hansgrohe teammate, Rüdi Selig celebrating long before he crossed the line – Peter was clear the racing in Belgium was hard, with the final kilometres especially challenging due to wet conditions that split the peloton with a crash before the Flamme Rouge. Peter moves up to 3rd in the GC race, and will wear the blue jersey of points leader on tomorrow’s stage.
The race crossed the border from the Netherlands into Belgium today, and with it came the promise of Flandrian cobblestones and the infamous Belgian weather. The 185km route was fairly flat, with a couple of short climbs, but nothing that would trouble the determined peloton. After a short day’s time trialling yesterday in difficult weather conditions, the sprinters would be eager to get back on the road and challenge for the win on a flat finale. The twisting finale would bring with it its own challenges, but with poor weather predicted at the finish, getting to the line in one piece would be a challenge all of its own.
Starting the day back in the rainbow stripes of UCI World Champion, there was no pressure on the BORA-hansgrohe riders to protect the race lead for Peter Sagan. For this reason, the team would be able to take the day relatively easy, with no compulsion to chase down the break – leaving the hard work to the race leader’s BMC team. The group of five escapees made the most of the flat start, managing to quickly build an advantage of three minutes. While the peloton was pushed along by a tailwind, reducing the gap to less than a minute, with the bulk of the stage still to go, there was no hurry to make the catch just yet, and the bunch backed off, allowing the break to extend their lead a little, and the addition of some cobblestones to the route allowed the break to add even more time as the larger group worked to make sure they came through safely.
Just 50km remaining, the pace increased, with the familiar jersey of German National Champion, Marcus Burghardt, riding hard on the front for the BORA-hansgrohe team, keeping the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, safe to contest the finish. Hitting the finishing circuit, which would be raced twice, the gap was decreasing rapidly, and while the peloton nervously tackled the street circuit, decreasing its speed to do so, the advantage had all but gone, and with 6km remaining, the catch was made – just as the twists and turns of the finish really got technical, the damp roads making the going treacherous. A late crash followed by a late attack strung out the peloton, but Peter had everything under control – even before he crossed the line, teammate Rudi Selig was celebrating Peter’s 99th professional victory, with both hands in the air 100m before he had taken the win.
Having won in Ardooie in the race last year, Peter knew the finale, but also knew it was going to be hard in Belgium. “It wasn’t easy today. It was a reminder that we’re racing in Belgium because today was like riding a Spring Classic. It was crazy – all day on the front, the team trains were up there trying to pass each other and control the pace. In the end, it started to rain, and it was very dangerous, with a crash in the finale. I’m very happy because BORA-hansgrohe worked very well together and took another victory, which was amazing for us – I’m very happy. We’ll see whether I can take my 100th victory soon – first we have to survive until tomorrow. It’s good to be back near the top of the GC as well. If I take the GC again, it will be on a day where there are a lot of groups and gaps on the road – it’s all about taking the seconds. For that reason, we will have to take it day by day.”
BORA-hansgrohe’s Head Sports Director, Enrico Poitschke, was thrilled with the day’s flawless teamwork. “It was a great day for us with another stage win for Peter! In a demonstration of flawless teamwork, all the riders of the squad performed perfectly today. In the finale, Peter showed his great form and did a really strong sprint. With this result, he moved up to third in the GC. All in all, a great day for BORA-hansgrohe! I am more than satisfied!”
Staying in Belgium for tomorrow’s stage, the race starts and finishes in Lanaken with a 154.2km parcours that again, is flat, but will challenge riders with the mix of a challenging course and some hard turns that may cause some splits in the closing kilometres. One thing for sure is that the sprinters will be working for the win again, making for a fast and exciting finale.