Boosted after his fifth place in the BREMER Cyclassics in Hamburg on Sunday, Laurence Pithie took part in another bunch sprint on Wednesday, on stage 1 of the Renewi Tour – formerly known as the Benelux Tour. In Ardooie, the New Zealander eventually took seventh place behind some of the world’s best sprinters, including the winner Jasper Philipsen. Thursday, a crucial 13-kilometre time trial will be on the menu for the riders.

After being canceled last year, the Tour du Benelux came back to life on Wednesday, under the name of Renewi Tour. As a starter, a 100% Belgian stage going from Blankenberge to Ardooie through 183 kilometres was on the menu, without any difficulty along the way. “It was a rather simple stage, flat, without much wind”, explained Sébastien Joly. Twenty kilometres were however necessary to see the day’s break establish itself with five men: Ludovic Robeet and Ceriel Desal (Bingoal WB), Alessandro Covi (UAE Emirates), Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-EasyPost) and Aaron Van Poucke (Team Flanders-Baloise). The fugitives got a three-minute gap early on, but with all the sprinters lining up on the event, their hopes quickly vanished. The gap therefore remained around a minute and a half for a large part of the day and the various teams interested in the stage victory gradually came back in the final hour racing. After four first laps of fifteen kilometres around Ardooie, the breakaway was caught before the final local loop, then the sprint slowly set up. “We first remained focused around our riders for GC, and for the stage, we were going with Laurence today”, explained Sébastien Joly.

“Laurence keeps on learning”, Sébastien Joly

In the last five kilometres, the Groupama-FDJ’s riders were able to find their way through the first part of the peloton and tried to stay there from then on. “Miles was slightly delayed by a crash in the final and so Jake did the lead-out for Laurence,” said Sébastien. “He did it extremely well because Laurence was in the wheel of Philipsen in the last few hundreds of metres. In terms of positioning, there is nothing to say”. In the final sprint, however, the young “Kiwi” couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Belgian and finished the stage in seventh position. “He still misses a little bit of power, but he is still very young”, said Sébastien. “It is also new for him to sprint at this level. He also faces some of the best sprinters in the world. It is still quite satisfying, and he keeps on learning. He was fifth in Hamburg, seventh today and he is very motivated to improve in this area. The idea was to build on from his performance in Hamburg and to continue on this way. He has the confidence of the team and his teammates. He is a very serious, very meticulous person and it is nice to see a young guy flourish like that”. On Wednesday, his six teammates also finished in the peloton. Tomorrow, the second stage, a 13.6-kilometre time trial, will create the first gaps. “The goal will be to do a good time trial, properly, in anticipation of the general classification and the stages that will follow”, concluded Sébastien.

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