Alexander Kristoff won the 1st stage of the 3 Days of De Panne, out-sprinting Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) and Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) from a 6 rider breakaway. Kristian Sbaragli put in a good sprint to secure 10th on the stage for MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung.
The stage got off to hesitant start with the opening 11 kilometers being neutralised due to high winds. When the flag finally dropped, the pace was on. With the help of a slight tailwind 56km's were covered in the first hour of racing.
A break of 4 riders would animate the race just before we hit the 100km mark. With the peloton lining-up the climbs that came in the 2nd part of the race, the pace was on and so the gap remained small. With around 40km to go, the break were within touching distance and a few riders tried to jump across the gap, including Matt Brammeier from Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung. Lars Bak would be the rider to make the bridge though as he joined up with teammate Jens Debuscherre to ride away from the other escapees.
The Lotto-Soudal duo put a minute into the peloton in no time. They would soon be joined by 4 other riders to form the race winning break. With 3 Lotto-Soudal riders and 2 Katusha riders in a move of 6 the cooperation was evident in driving the break to the line. Behind a peloton of now only 30 odd riders, including Kristian and Youcef Reguigui, tried in vain to reel the leaders in.
Kristian even tried an attack with 5km to go but to no avail, the escapees would hold on to their 25" gap. Our Algerian then took it upon himself to assist Kristian in the sprint. A lone BMC rider got a small gap on the peloton in the final km, leaving the pack to sprint for 8th. Our Italian sprinter was 3rd in the small sprint, making him good enough for 10th on the stage while Youcef rolled across in 12th.
Kristian Sbaragli - Rider
Youcef and I worked well together like we always do. I was feeling really good in the final but we were a bit too far back when Kristoff and the others attacked so I could not follow. I tried to attack from the group but was unsuccessful. In the sprint my legs were still good so I got 3rd place. I am confident for tomorrow's stage.