Alexander Kristoff of Katusha completed his domination of Driedaagse De Panne by winning the morning sprint stage by the slimmest of margins and actually conceding stage victory in the afternoon time trial... to World Champion Bradley Wiggins and almost nobody else, an effort that easily secured his overall victory in the race.
The morning stage, a circuit race around Koksijde, came down to the slimmest possible margin of victory over a hard-charging André Greipel of Lotto-Soudal. The two riders sat in the media tent afterward, each not knowing who had won, until the race jury studied the photograph and awarded the race to Kristoff. Frankly, looking at the photo finish, it's impossible to tell. But they had to give it to someone, and Kristoff has been the story of the race, so there you go.
Coming into the final stage time trial, Kristoff now held a 22 second lead over second-place Stijn Devolder of Trek, but with concern that Devolder could lay down a top time trial effort and still take the overall. On the tough, technical course Wiggins blew away all the early markers, to nobody's surprise, and Devolder stated his case for victory, coming in fourth place in the stage, just 19 seconds down on Wiggins. But 59 seconds later Kristoff came blasting through the final twists and turns, brushing parked cars and laying down another sprint, to not only preserve his margin but to enlarge it by a second.
The winner of Driedaagse De Panne has not gone on to win the Tour of Flanders since 2007, when Alessandro Ballan of Lampre accomplished the feat on the strength of a good time trial rather than one stressful sprint after another. It's a very different race, and most of the top Classics stars do not attend, this year included. Still, many Driedaagse winners have gone on to solid Ronde finishes, as the race is at least an indicator of top form of one kind or another. In Kristoff's case, the time trial effort may alone elevate him into the favorites discussion, if not to the top of it. He is a strong rider on top of his game, with a body that suits a Flanders rider. At 27 the Oslo native is at his peak. So, his performance here in Koksijde offers a credible case for him as a Flanders threat. Certainly if the race comes together at the end for any sort of sprint, he will like his chances.
It should also be noted that Katusha haven't lost much lately. While neighboring projects are falling to pieces -- Astana's license hanging by a thread, Tinkoff-Saxo in turmoil -- Katusha are enjoying an excellent run of results, starting with Luca Paolini's outstanding escape for victory in Gent-Wevelgem. They and Sky are the top performing squads in Belgium at the moment, a surprising turn of events indeed.
Results Stage 3A
- Alexander Kristoff, Katusha
- André Greipel, Lotto-Soudal, s.t.
- Sacha Modolo, Lampre, s.t.
Results Stage 3B
- Bradley Wiggins, Sky
- Stefan Kung, BMC, at 0.10
- Kristoff, at 0.18
Final General Classification
- Stijn Devolder, Trek, at 0.23
De Panne - De Panne 15 km TT
Can Kristoff hold off and win the overall this time?
Fastest man with collarbone intact: Sir Wanker Wiggins
Last TT for Sky. I assume he wants to show off.