Kristoff wins De Panne opener

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) managed to hold off the attacks of Astana’s riders Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko to win the opening stage of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde – the Three Days of De Panne.

The stage had been marred by strong crosswinds right from the start, resulting in lots of splits in the very fast first hour. From the chaos, a 16-rider group emerged and it contained some of the biggest favourites for the overall win as Westra, Kristoff, Lutsenko, Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff), Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Taylor Phinney and Tom Bohli (BMC) had all made it into the move. They were joined by Mads Pedersen (Stölting), Maxime Farazijn (Topsport), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Michael Mørkøv (Katusha), the BMC pair of Loic Vliegen and Rick Zabel and the Sky trio of Luke Rowe, Danny Van Poppel and Christian Knees.

As they hit Ten Bosse, Westra launched the expected attack and when Van Poppel cracked in fourth position, Westra, Rowe and Kristoff crested the summit with a small advantage over Lutsenko and then the rest of the group. Lutsenko dug deep to join the leaders while the 7-rider chase group got very close to bringing it back together before they cracked.

The front trio hit Klemhoutstraat with an advantage of 1.20 and it was Westra and Kristoff leading the group to the top, with Westra cresting the summit in first position. The trio again started to cooperate on the descent until they reached the 3km to go mark with a one-minute advantage.

The game of cat and mouse started and after a bit of watching, Lutsenko attacked with 2km to go. Kristoff closed it down and from there the Kazakh rode slowly on the front until the flamme ouge where Kristoff took over.

The Norwegian was in full control, constantly looking back to check his rivals before launching his sprint with 200m to go. As expected, Lutsenko and Westra had no response and had to settle for second and third respectively. Pedersen and Rowe arrived 29 seconds later while Ligthart won the sprint for sixth with a time loss of 36 seconds.

With the bonus seconds, Kristoff takes the overall lead with a 1-second advantage over Lutsenko whil Westra is 6 seconds behind in third. He will try to defend his position in the second stage which includes the famous climbs of the Mesenberg, Monteberg, Kemmelberg, Rodeberg and Vidaigneberg at the midpoint from where it is a flat run to the finish. The stage ends with three laps of a flat 11.2km circuit in Koksijde.

Driedaagse De Panne 2016 – stage 1 results (De Panne – Zottegem):

1 Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)

4:22:34

2 Alexey Lutsenko (Astana)

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3 Lieuwe Westra (Astana)

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4 Mads Pedersen (Stölting)

+29”

5 Luke Rowe (Sky)

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6 Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal)

+36”

7 Manuel Belletti (Southeast – Venezuela)

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8 Juraj Sagan (Tinkoff)

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9 Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal)

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10 Marco Haller (Katusha)

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