A bunch sprint was anticipated in Hoogerheide this Wednesday, in stage three of the Benelux Tour. But it did not happen. Five men from the breakaway managed to defeat the peloton and Taco van der Hoorn then claimed the day’s victory. Jake Stewart and Stefan Küng finished in the first part of the bunch, a few meters behind the break. The Swiss man stays in third place in the general classification.
Starting from the far north of the Netherlands on Monday, the Benelux Tour reached the south on Wednesday, just a few kilometres away from Belgium, in Hoogerheide. Like on day 1, a mass sprint was expected as not a single climb featured on the course. The stage’s favourites were actually happy to let six men go early on. “The morning break went after five kilometres of racing,” said Jussi Veikkanen. “There were six at first, but the Bingoal rider sat up after competing in the first intermediate sprint at km 40. They were down to five in front, but five strong riders”. More precisely, the leading group was made of Samuele Battistella (Astana), Taco Van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Mathias Jorgensen (Movistar), Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange) and Thimo Willems (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise). Not willing to take any risk, the peloton only let a three minute-gap at best to the breakaway. However, when the fight between the two groups really started in the last forty kilometres, the bunch had a hard time trying to make the gap reduce. On the Hoogerheide circuit, twenty-nine kilometres long to be covered three times, the gap certainly dropped at first, but the leading five then put on a strong effort to stay away.
“Overall, the mission was completed”, Jussi Veikkanen
With ten kilometres to go, the gap was still above one minute and the breakaway even entered the last three kilometres with a thirty second-lead. It was quite enough to fight for victory. Taco van de Hoorn then outsprinted his breakaway companions and the first part of the bunch got to the line four seconds later, with Jake Stewart, Stefan Küng, Fabian Lienhard and Miles Scotson in there. “It was a similar stage to the last one of the Tour of Poland, and it ended the same way,” Jussi said. “There were quite a few mechanical problems, punctures, crashes in the last 20 kilometers, which favoured the breakaway. For us, the goal today was to protect Stefan and position Jake for the sprint. Overall, the mission was completed. The only concern was Durbridge, who could have passed Stefan overall with the bonus seconds. Finally, he remains behind Stefan, who keeps his third place. In case of a bunch finish, we hoped to see Jake sprinting. He was up there, but wasn’t able to really go for the top spots. Let’s also remember he crashed in the first stage. He still has a few bandages, and might feel sore when he gets up in the morning, but he’s getting better and better. We are not worried”.
The young Briton, who recently extended with the team until 2023, eventually placed 29th and could have another opportunity to show himself on Thursday in Ardooie. “The sprinters missed an opportunity today, so I think they’ll want their revenge tomorrow,” said Jussi.