After stage 2 was cancelled on Wednesday due to new COVID-19 restrictions in the Netherlands, the BinckBank Tour got back on track on Thursday. The race therefore set off again from Belgium, and Stefan Küng safely completed stage 3 around Aalter. The European time trial champion will be amongst the main favourites in tomorrow’s stage at Riemst.

“We had a double objective”, Frédéric Guesdon

It is something very unusual in a one-week stage race, but the BinckBank Tour’s riders did enjoy a rest day yesterday. As the Dutch municipalities forbid any big gatherings, the second stage planned on Wednesday simply got cancelled. “So we went for a quick ride in the morning, for 1h30-2h”, explained Frédéric Guesdon. “We went to check today’s circuit as well, since it was about twenty kilometers away from us. Kevin and Stefan rode with their time trial bikes as we suspected there would still be one. They wanted to stay focused on that goal, so they took advantage of this day to practice it”. The second stage cancellation could have been a big blow for Stefan Küng, but the organizers showed great adaptability as they rescheduled the time trial on day four, in Riemst. Before that however, the riders had to tackle a very flat third stage in Aalter, made of a 20-kilometer circuit to repeat seven times.

“It didn’t start in the best way for us,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “Alexys [Brunel] has been having pain in his foot for a while. He changed his shoes hoping it would go better, but it did not. This causes him calf pain. So he had to abandon quickly and that’s the day’s disappointment”. Without the young Frenchman, who provided the team’s first victory this year, the race went on and a five-man breakaway took shape after 20 kilometers. However, Jonas Rickaert, Oscar Riesebeek (Alpecin-Fenix), Pim Ligthart, Adrien Petit (Total Direct Energie) and Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) never enjoyed a gap bigger than three minutes since the sprinters’ teams were in command. “The race was much harder today because the riders raced with the rain and wet roads almost all the time,” said Frédéric. “The circuit was quite technical and the goal was to avoid crashes and splits, especially for Stefan. We really wanted the guys to be more around him, and it will be useful for the Classics as well. We actually had a double objective: to work around Stefan so that he would not lose time and to think about the future”.

“Stefan is doing well at the moment”, Frédéric Guesdon

In the last three laps, Belgian champion Dries de Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) tried to spice up the race with Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Milan Menten (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), but the peloton never got in trouble while the Groupama-FDJ’s leader always remained in the first part of the bunch. “The guys worked very well around him in the finale,” said Frédéric. “For us it is a positive day”. Last man from the breakaway standing, Rickaert got caught with two kilometers to go and the former world champion Mads Pedersen eventually won the sprint. Stefan Küng finished safely in the bunch and can now look calmly towards the time trial on Friday. “It’s a little harder than the initial one,” Frédéric says. “There is a 700-meter climb especially, and Nicolas Boisson went to recon it for us. Stefan would certainly have preferred a slightly longer time trial, and the course might suit other riders better, but he is doing well at the moment and he’s still a specialist. Surely it is not the same distance as at the European or World Championships, but we can hope for a good result and he will do everything to go for the win. It’s going to be a close call over eight kilometers, and riders like Van der Poel and Kragh Andersen will be dangerous on such a route. However, having the jersey on Friday evening does not guarantee having it on Saturday evening anyway. There will not be big gaps, and the winner of the time trial will certainly have a small advantage, but nothing will be done. Things are often a bit crazy here the last day, and the typical “Flanders” stage can also suit Stefan”.

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