Belgium Tour Stage 3: Boonen 2nd in Herzele After Strong Team Effort
Etixx - Quick-Step did what they could to control the race in support of Tom Boonen, wearer of the blue (points) jersey after winning the 2nd stage, at Baloise Belgium Tour Stage 3 on Friday. However, due to a full gas chase in the final few kilometers with a dangerous escape group, Boonen then had to improvise to put himself in good position for the sprint in the final few hundred meters.
Lotto Soudal was in front with two riders, with Boonen third wheel and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) behind him. Demare was able to get the jump and win the stage, with Boonen 2nd and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) 3rd.
Niki Terpstra did a great job as the last leadout rider for Boonen before the sprint. The race came back together with 1.6km to go thanks to Etixx - Quick-Step using the train to chase down Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty - Groupe Gobert), and Laurens De Vreese (Astana) at about 5km remaining. The gap was 10" with 4.3km to go, and eventually Benoot tried to attack with Van Avermaet going with him. However, they couldn't stay away with the tempo Etixx - Quick-Step set to ensure the bunch sprint finish.
Etixx - Quick-Step also worked hard earlier in the race to be in the actions. Nikolas Maes, Stijn Vandenbergh, and Yves Lampaert were in a brief lead group, and the team was also driving the pace on the front when the peloton split into a few groups on the Paddestraat. Despite the up-and-down parcours and plenty of attacks, there was still a regrouping and the race ended in a group arrival.
Etixx - Quick-Step looks next to Stage 4 on Saturday, with Boonen now 4th GC (+9"). He is also 2nd in the points classification, but tied with Demare at the 55 point mark. Yves Lampaert is also 8th GC (+19"). The 158.5km stage is another up-and-down stage, including the final 6km before the finish in Lacs de l'Eau d'Heure.
"Like expected the final was a pretty explosive sprint," Boonen said. "Maybe we could have done more to prevent having to close the gap in the last uphill part of the stage. But that was a strong group that attacked. I think the effort to chase blew up some of our power. But my team did a good job closing it down for me. The sprint was a bit hectic. I had to choose a wheel for my sprint and I went with Roelandts, where I thought I was in good position. But the moment I wanted to go there was a hesitation, and Demare and I launched our sprint together. He is a strong sprinter of course, and was able to pass me. He deserves the victory today. Of course I'm disappointed with 2nd, but tomorrow is a new chance. We worked hard to make sure the sprint happened for me and I did the best I could today. We will see what can happen again tomorrow if there is another bunch arrival. My condition is good, with a victory and a 2nd place so far at this Baloise Belgium Tour."