The WorldTour Belgian Classics’ campaign started in a challenging way on Wednesday. As a consequence, the Classic Brugge-De Panne did not end with a bunch sprint as it often happened. Due to harsh weather conditions, the race opened up at halfway point through echelons. Arnaud Démare managed to enter the right move some sixty kilometres from the finish, but he eventually lacked the energy to compete for the very first positions. He therefore grabbed fourteenth place on the line. Next stop on the Flemish Calendar: the E3 Classic on Friday.
At the start of Bruges on Wednesday, one couldn’t rely on the race profile to judge the day’s toughness. “We were expecting a very nervous race given the weather conditions”, claimed Frédéric Guesdon. “On this kind of course, it’s mostly the weather that decidse how the race will unfold”. “It was a really grueling race, and we knew it from the beginning because of the conditions: rain, cold and wind”, confirmed Arnaud Démare. “When you know how the course is around De Panne, you can expect a very intense and nervous day”. A breakaway still managed to establish itself after a few kilometres with Jens Reynders (Israel-Pemier Tech), Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-EasyPost), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-Samsic), Milan Fretin (Flanders-Baloise), Louis Brendixen (Uno-X), Johan Meens and Louis Blouwe (Bingoal WB). However, their advantage never exceeded three minutes as the tension always followed the bunch. This became even truer on the first of three laps (48km) around De Panne. “The fight really started on the circuit”, explained Frédéric. “There was a portion of small roads where there was a ¾ backwind, and that opened up the race. At the end of the first lap, there were about thirty guys in front, and we had no one”. “We weren’t in the first echelon, but the guys worked really well in the back to close the gap”, added Arnaud Démare.
“I fought well”, Arnaud Démare
Ignatas Konovalovas and Fabian Lienhard especially took part in the chase along with other teams, and the first two pelotons eventually came back together with sixty-eight kilometres to go. It wasn’t calm for long, though. “Right after, another echelon formed, in the same zone as the previous lap”, said Frédéric. “Twenty guys or so entered the move, with Bram and Arnaud. Paul was there too, but he was last in the group. He took a gust of wind and got distanced”. “We did not mess up when the second split happened,” said Arnaud. The first group quickly rode away from the second, but after ten kilometres of hard fight, the former French champion found himself alone at the head of the race. “Unfortunately, we lost Bram because of a puncture,” explained Frédéric. “We only had Arnaud left, and he just hung on, and hung on…” The leading men’s advantage soon went over the two-minute mark, and the final battle was set to happen between them. It started fifteen kilometres from the line with an acceleration of Jasper Philipsen, and four men ran away. “Arnaud struggled a bit at that point, he got back in the wheels, but when Soudal-Quick Step paced up, he lacked a bit of energy”, described Frédéric. “I was already going flat-out approaching the final”, said the French sprinter. “I had nothing left in my legs, but I fought well”.
For several kilometres, he sailed a few seconds from the chasing group, but he never managed the bridge across. He eventually finished this tough day of racing in fourteenth position, about thirty seconds behind the winner Jasper Philipsen. “It’s reassuring, as it always gives confidence to be in the first echelon, but it’s a bit of a shame that I’m not yet at my level,” said Arnaud. “I was obviously on the limit in the final, but I hope it will do me good for the races to come”. “We came close to disaster when we had no one in front,” added Frédéric. “We managed to put it right, but then in the end, it simply came down to the legs. We just had a little misfortune with Bram. In the end, it did not go that bad considering the race’s difficulty”. The Classics campaign is anyway underway and will continue on Friday on the E3 Saxo Classic with an almost entirely new group.