It should come as no surprise that Wednesday’s second stage of Three Days of De Panne, a flat ride from Oudenaarde to the coastal town of Koksijde, ended in a field sprint.
However, anyone that placed a bet on Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov to take that field sprint would have gone to sleep with substantial winnings in his pocket.
The 24-year-old Russian took his first win as a professional, finishing ahead of John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad), Peter Sagan (Liquigas) and Tomas Vaitkus (Astana).
“I’m very happy to have my first pro win in three years of pro cycling,” Galimzyanov said. “I knew I needed to be on Vaitkus’ wheel, he was the guy to beat from that group. I’ve learned a lot about racing in the wind, and how important it is to be in the front, at the Tour of Qatar.”
Wednesday’s 219km course, run in windy and damp conditions, used several Flandrian climbs early on the course, including the cobbled Kemmelberg, one of the defining climbs of Ghent-Wevelgem.
The UCI EuropeTour race, run without radios, nearly saw a breakaway make it to the line.
After escaping with Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Quick Step) and Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur), Veranda’s Willems rider Arnoud Van Groen attacked his breakaway partners with 12km remaining as the peloton closed in. His gap stretched to 35 seconds with only 7km to go, but with HTC-Highroad and FDJ driving the chase, Van Groen was caught inside the final kilometer.
The race was also marked by several crashes and critical splits in the wind.
Belgian national champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil) crashed heavily after a rider fell in front of him. Devolder flipped through the air and landed on his left shoulder and elbow; after the race he said he didn’t think it was serious, and that he intended to finish De Panne, but would wait to confirm that after a visit with the team doctor.
FDJ’s Dominique Rollin hit the deck and ripped his shorts, but was not seriously hurt and finished the race.
Sky rider Bradley Wiggins, perhaps the top time trialist in the field, missed a split in the bunch and finished several minutes behind the front group.
Early in Wednesday’s stage, overnight race leader André Greipel (HTC-Highroad) couldn’t maintain pace and rode in with the gruppetto, which crossed the line 5:09 behind the day’s winner. Greipel is now in 59th place on GC, 5:06 out of the lead.
Greipel’s breakaway companion from Tuesday’s stage, Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil), moved into the race lead ahead of Bert De Backer (Skil-Shimano) who picked up bonus time during the early kilometers of Tuesday’s stage.
Also a talented TT rider, Westra is now the favorite for the overall win heading into Thursday — a double day, featuring a flat 112km morning stage that starts and ends in De Panne and a 15km afternoon time trial that will likely determine the overall winner.
“I’m happy to get the jersey today,” Westra said. “Today my most important rival, Brad Wiggins, missed the move. It was a nervous race because of the wind, and it was important to be in front. I hope to finish at the front during (Thursday’s) morning race, and then the TT will just be one on one.”
• The city of Koksijde is known for its fishermen, who used to drag nets along the coast for shrimp, all by horseback; the day’s clay trophies were of horseback-mounted fishermen. After the race, the city hosted an event to publicize its hosting the 2012 world cyclocross championships.