Two years after his third place in the E3 Saxo Classic, and after a frustrating start to the spring Classics’ campaign, Stefan Küng returned to the podium of a “Flemish” Classic this Wednesday. From Roeselare to Waregem, the Swiss rider showed good form on Dwars door Vlaanderen to take third place, beaten for victory by Matteo Jorgenson and the Visma-Lease a Bike’s numbers. This also is the first big result for Groupama-FDJ in Belgium this year, while Valentin Madouas also obtained a decent thirteenth place. A good sign before the major goal which is the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

Whether for a rehearsal or to (re)gain confidence, the Dwars door Vlaanderen was anyway the final race for the Classics riders before the “Ronde”. Over a much shorter distance (188 km) and without the main and iconic climbs, the race yet promised to be quite different. The fight for the breakaway also lasted fifty kilometers from Roeselare. “Eleven got in the lead, in two consecutive waves,” explained Frédéric Guesdon. “However, we know that the breakaway can go far on this kind of race, especially since there were good riders in front, so the pace was high straight away.” The bunch therefore gave barely more than three minutes to Dries De Bondt, Jonas Abrahamsen, Casper Pedersen, Pascal Eenkhoorn or Mathias Norsgaard before coming to the first bergs. As soon as they entered the last hundred kilometres, the tension intensified, especially approaching the Knokteberg and the Kortekeer. Despite being in perfect position, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team still experienced a serious setback with Laurence Pithie puncturing. “He really suffered a flat tire at the wrong time, and we were quite far away because of the small roads,” Frédéric said. “After changing bikes, he tried to come back, but when he did, there were splits and he immediately found himself out of the game. The race opened up precisely at that point, and it was over for him. He kept on going and going, but it was too complicated.”

“It wasn’t easy to manage”, Frédéric Guesdon

Within the peloton, the first selection happened in the Berg ten Houte, which Stefan Küng overcame in the first positions. A small bunch broke away until the day’s major event occurred, with a heavy crash on the descent leading to the Kanarieberg. “The crash brought down a lot of favorites,” said Frédéric, referring to Van Aert, Pedersen and Stuyven. “It changed the race’s momentum quite a bit.” “It was a bit hectic at that moment, I just moved up in the group, and right after I heard the crash behind me,” added Stefan. “I think everyone was a bit shocked at first, then Matteo Jorgenson re-opened the race in the Kanarieberg.” With 65 kilometres to go, five men broke away from the peloton including Stefan Küng, Matteo Jorgenson, Tiesj Benoot, Michael Valgren and Alberto Bettiol. “We had to pull straight away because there were portions that could help the groups behind to come back, and we are always afraid that the sprinters’ teams will organize,” said Frédéric. “We also had to quickly get back to the leading group to try to drop some riders in the hills, because we knew it would be more difficult to do so in the final.” The chasing group, which grew to six after Joshua Tarling bridged across, ultimately caught the breakaway after almost twenty-five kilometres, on the climb of Ladeuze.

After this hill, five morning fugitives managed to hang on to the six “favorites”. Meanwhile, the gap on the next group increased to one minute and a half, which made the victory almost guaranteed to the leading men. Following an acceleration by Stefan Küng in a cobbled sector with thirty kilometres to go, only seven were left in contention. The Swiss rider once again showed his strength by chasing down Bettiol after the Nokereberg or Jorgenson about fifteen kilometres from the finish. Yet, while the Italian was dropped because of cramps in the final, the rider from Groupama-FDJ still had to deal with two men from Visma-Lease a Bike. After an effort to catch Benoot on the day’s final climb at Nokere, he got surprised by Jorgenson’s counterattack just before the last cobbled sector, with seven kilometres to go. “We didn’t want Stefan to be caught behind some outsiders while he had very good legs,” Frédéric explained. “In the end, we don’t have too many regrets because he didn’t make a mistake. It wasn’t easy to manage with the two Visma-Lease a Bike’s riders.” The Swiss rider confirmed it himself: “They had the numbers, and they played it well. I was probably the strongest with them, but it was impossible for me to win this race. They are very strong riders and they played it well. There also wasn’t a hard enough climb in the final to make a difference. When there are two against one and the others are just looking at me because they’re on the limit, then it’s really difficult”.

“I’m ready and looking forward to Sunday,” Stefan Küng

While Jorgenson rode to victory, Stefan Küng tried to ride as best as possible to secure the day’s podium. Second place was ultimately decided in a sprint, and he was only beaten by Abrahamsen. “It’s nice to be on the podium,” he said. “For sure we race to win, but I think I did the maximum given the situation.” “We finally have the result that we were missing,” added Frédéric. “Until then, we were up there in all the races, but it had not paid off. Today, there is the podium and the way to take it, so that’s good. This bodes well for Sunday. Taking third in Dwars door Vlaanderen gives morale to everyone. The goals are clear for Sunday and we will get to the Ronde with a lot of motivation.” Valentin Madouas also finished in a solid thirteenth place on Wednesday. “Today is positive towards the Tour of Flanders,” confirmed Stefan. “Normally, we will have three cards to play with Laurence, Valentin and myself. The last two years I was in contention at the Ronde, and the goal is to be there this year too. I’m ready and looking forward to Sunday. The cobbled climbs normally suit me better. I also feel like I’m getting better day by day. Today is the best I felt in all these races, and I still feel fresh.”

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