A bunch sprint was expected, and a bunch sprint happened on Wednesday at the Classic Brugge-De Panne. After two hundred kilometers without difficulties, whether on the course or from a weather point of view, Jasper Philipsen took victory. Although in a good position and quite attentive in the final, Laurence Pithie had to settle for fifteenth place at the finish, as he was blocked in the final straight. On Friday, the E3 Saxo Classic will kick off the proper “Flemish Classics”.

On Wednesday afternoon, most of the world’s best sprinters gathered at the start in Bruges. With no hills or cobbled sectors on the menu in their way to La Panne, their chances were high. Even higher as the weather conditions were also on their side. “We know that the weather plays a very important role in how the race unfolds here, but there was no wind,” explained Frédéric Guesdon. “We knew that it was going to be a bunch sprint and that no one would make the race harder. It rather worked against us, because even if Laurence is fast, he is not a pure sprinter. With this competition, we knew it would be hard, but we still had to try.” The usual scenario then fell into place, with a breakaway of only three men, namely Luca de Meester (Bingoal WB), Victor Vercouillie (Flanders-Baloise), Thomas Gachignard (TotalEnergies), and a peloton controlling behind. The trio had a maximum lead of seven minutes, but the bunch easily came back in the second half of the race.

“We miss a little something”, Frédéric Guesdon

Starting the final 45-kilometre lap around La Panne, the gap was reduced to two minutes, then the bunch got closer in fits and starts. “The pace increased a lot when positioning in certain spots, especially for changes of direction,” said Frédéric Guesdon. Gachignard was the last rider to be caught, with ten kilometres to go, and the nervousness was already at its high. “We knew we couldn’t make a lead-out train,” Frédéric added. “Marc was back in racing after his crash, and we also lost Sam due to stomach problems. We had five guys starting the final lap. We identified three points on the circuit where Laurence had to be positioned and the guys did it quite well.” Six kilometres from the finish, the New Zealander took the wheel of Fabian Lienhard, who positioned him at the head of the pack on narrow roads. “Fabian kept him well in front until the last three kilometres,” said Frédéric. “It was perhaps a bit early, but it was better that he was positioned than having regrets afterwards. Given how the race unfolded, Laurence had to handle the last two kilometres on his own.”

Shortly before the flamme rouge, the wearer of the yellow jersey on Paris-Nice made a strong effort before a decisive corner to enter the last kilometre in the first ten positions. However, riders came back from both sides right after, and he then didn’t manage to find his way through in the sprint. “He made an effort that some sprinters didn’t have to make, then he found himself a bit boxed in,” said Frédéric. “He didn’t get the space we would have liked. The situation was not ideal for him.” Blocked on the left in the last curve, Laurence Pithie lost most of his speed and had to settle for fifteenth on the line. “We have no regrets”, concluded his sports director. “He gave his best. He didn’t miss much, but it’s a bit like our start to the season in Belgium. We are never far from achieving a nice result, but we miss a little something.” Hopefully the wheel of fortune will turn from Friday on the E3 Saxo Classic, the real starting point of the Flemish campaign.

No comment