Three days after Stefan Küng’s sixth place in Gand-Wevelgem, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team did not prove as successful on Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. The Swiss champion was indeed seen in the front positions at one point, but later found himself empty. As for the French champion Arnaud Démare, he did not enter the sprint for third place in the best conditions and then had to settle for 21st on the line.

Last appointment before the “Ronde”, the 2021 edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen was set to be a good rehearsal ahead of the season’s second Monument, for all the favourites and underdogs who lined up today. Still, the course was quite different – and “only” included 184 kilometers – while a bright sunshine was expected. “The first seventy kilometers were all flat, there was no wind and the attacks did not stop,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “There was a high pace from the start and it kept going this way all day”. The day’s breakaway, including only Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Ethan Hayter (Ineos) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal), actually established itself only after 80 kilometers, and the peloton did not even ease up in the back. Therefore, the average speed after two hours of racing was 47.5 km/h. The riders soon tackled the first series of climbs. Stefan Küng accelerated on the cobblestone sector of Maria Borrestraat, which allowed him to maintain a good position approaching the Taaienberg, where the peloton split apart. The Swiss champion managed to enter the first group while Arnaud Démare, Valentin Madouas and Olivier Le Gac found themselves in a second bunch, about ten seconds behind.

“Under our expectations”, Frédéric Guesdon

This bunch was even about to bridge across, but the race did not calm down from then on. Heading to the Berg Ten Houte, a small group went up front, and Dylan van Baarle soon got away alone. Isolating from the rest with 53 kilometers to go, the Dutchman was never seen again. In the chasing group, Stefan Küng tried to counter-attack, but it did not prove successful. He then took a real blow in the Kruisberg/Côte de Trieu sequence, with more than 30 kilometers to go. “I don’t know exactly what happened to me,” later confessed the Swiss rider. “It was feeling really well, and all of a sudden, I was just left empty. I felt dizzy and even struggled to finish the race. Maybe it was the heat… It was very weird anyway.” “It was the first heat in the Classics,” added Frédéric. “It’s never easy to deal with. It certainly had an impact for many riders today.” The European time trial champion was then logically caught by the main “bunch”. The latter included Arnaud Démare and Olivier Le Gac, but not Valentin Madouas, who had been hit by a car earlier. “It looks like there is nothing serious, mostly burns,” explained Frédéric. “Above all, it’s a shame as he looked good and was in the mix.”

In the last thirty kilometers, a great fight took place between the various groups. After the Nokereberg, last climb of the day, the bunch caught the second chasing group and only bridged across to the first chasers with one kilometre to go. The peloton was however defeated for the win, as Dylan van Baarle finished off his brilliant solo, and therefore got to the home stretch for the remaining places. Arnaud Démare could not really take part in this fight as he started his sprint from too far back. “We were all quite exhausted,” said the French champion at the finish. “I came back just in time with 25k to go and I first had to recover. When we caught them in the last kilometre, it was a bit of a mess and I was already at the limit. I did what I could with what I had left. It was again a really tough Classic”. The Frenchman eventually took 21st on the day. “We obviously expected a better result today,” Frédéric confessed. “We were under our expectations. We shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but we missed an opportunity to gain confidence. We would have liked to take some more ahead of Sunday. That being said, we will still be ambitious at the start of the Tour of Flanders. It went well on Ghent-Wevelgem last weekend, there is no reason that we should not be up there again”.

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