Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) sprinted to victory in the Eneco Tour’s stage 4, surviving a chaotic finish that saw many riders crash.
The 179.1km stage from Koksijde to Ardooie saw the race’s defending champion, Zdenek Stybar hit the ground within sight of the line. The cyclocross world champion was unable to carry on and left the Ardooie finish straight in an ambulance.
Ahead, Bouhanni expertly surfed wheels in the final kilometer, eventually settling on a lead-out from Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol). Bouhanni jumped with only a few hundred meters to go, and claimed the sprint by a few bike-lengths.
Two early instigators
Very early in the stage, Kenneth Vanbilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) attacked and quickly accumulated a lead that went out to as much as four minutes.
With 135 kilometers remaining, Veuchelen set off alone.
Meanwhile in the peloton, André Greipel abandoned the race, citing illness.
Veuchelen’s lonely ride continued, but the gap slowly decreased. With 36 kilometers remaining, his gap was a mere 32 seconds, and the field could see the leader on sections of open road.
As the peloton approached a bonus sprint with 25.2km to go, the Belgian’s solo escape came to an end.
With time bonuses on offer for the intermediate sprints, the field was motivated. Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) took the bonus, beating Stybar, to help defend his teammate Lars Boom’s GC lead.
There were a few moments of indecision, as riders probed the field with half-hearted attacks.
BMC’s Sylvan Dillier took a flyer before the group entered the final lap of racing around Ardooie, but he was soon brought back by the field.
Then, Dillier’s teammate, Daniel Oss, made a promising move with 14.7km remaining. He soon had a 21 second gap, then a 24 second advantage at 10km to go. The peloton remained disorganized, chasing ineffectively.
However, as Vanmarcke won another bonus sprint, the gap came down quickly, and Oss was caught with 6.2km remaining.
Afterward, Oss said, “I found a small hole and I tried, but nobody followed me so I was a alone. I got a gap, but not enough to enough to make it to the finish. It was a good attack for my morale and to find out my shape.”
Cannondale, Trek Factory Racing, and Tinkoff-Saxo all jostled for position at the front, hoping to deliver their sprinters safely through the final technical corners prior to the finish.
Movistar’s Jasha Sütterlin made a desperate final attack with 2.5km to go, but it had little impact on the peloton.
As teams fought for position before a sharp left turn about two kilometers out from the line, Garmin-Sharp moved up right side of peloton, with David Millar shepherding Tyler Farrar to the front.
The field slightly split at the exit of that left corner, with seven riders getting a gap, stringing out the field to a single-file line, with Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) leading the charge.
Giant-Shimano pushed up the left side of the front group, but as Cancellara pulled off, their sprint train was derailed.
Immediately before the finish, the peloton came to grief in one final chicane. A rider from Giant-Shimano touched handlebars with another rider and set off a chain reaction that saw about 10 riders crash, bikes catapulted into the air, and last year’s race winner, Stybar taken out of contention.
Boom, the race leader, narrowly avoided the crash to finish safely. Stybar was not so fortunate. He did not finish and left the race in an ambulance. Alexandre Porsev (Katusha) broke his clavicle and also left the race.
“I haven’t seen a lot except for some flashes on television,” said Boom of the late crash. “It’s never pleasant to see someone crash so hard. Here in Ardooie, it’s always a big fight. Of course, the riders create dangerous situations themselves, but honestly, I have to say I don’t really like the final here.”
Bouhanni followed Belgian champion Debuschere’s wheel in the finale, winning the sprint, with Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) finishing second and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) taking third.
“I just found a solution at the end when the line beckoned,” said Bouhanni. “It’s like going back to the Giro, but I’m back here in the Eneco Tour. I’ve been busy with the Route de Sud as well, but it’s been a sparse season for me. [This was the] first sprint in the Eneco Tour I’ve been able to contest. The end of my season will be the Vuelta, and of course I’m going to try to win some stages there.”
The GC standings remain unchanged, with Boom leading, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) second, and Manuel Quinziato (Cannondale) in third.
Friday’s stage starts and finishes in Geraardsbergen, riding 162.5km that some have likened to a miniature Tour of Flanders.