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5 days to Flanders - Kristoff lives!

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KRISTOF VAN ACCOM/AFP/Getty Images

With five days to go to Ronde van Vlaanderen the main news event of the day was stage one of Driedagse De Panne-Koksijde which turned into a triumphant day for reigning champion Alexander Kristoff who outfoxed two Astana breakaway companions to take the stagewin. Losers of the day was once again Etixx-Quickstep who not only missed the winning move but also managed to completely botch the chase, more or less putting the entire team out of contention for the GC.

Luckily for Etixx their poor day might be overshadowed by the entertainingly poor Astana teamwork at the end of the stage when they not only managed to serve an exhausted Kristoff the win on a silver platter but also lose a fair bit of their precious timeadvantage for the GC in the process. Of course, unlike Etixx, they did all that after they not only made the breakaway but also forced the final selection on the Tenbosse, move only Kristoff and Luke Rowe were able to follow. And although they lost half their advantage they still sit with two guys 36 seconds ahead of the big group of pre-race favorites. So maybe we should go back to Etixx-bashing.....?

Biggest smile of the day was on Kristoff though who apparently has bounced back from his E3/Gent-Wevelgem-ruining illness. Clearly not yet at full force he was struggling to hang on to the Astana train when they attacked but hang on he did. If the freshness and form keeps improving during the week and whatever bug it was he had is really out of his body he may be as much of a threat on Sunday as we anticipated a week ago. A guy who fights to hang on to Lieuwe Westra isn't staying with Cancellara on the Kwaremont of course but he has time.

Bad-luck prize goes to Luke Rowe who managed to go with the move on the Tenbosse only to find himself with a flat just as the party was getting started on the Muur in Geraardsbergen and that was his day over. He tried to chase back but even cooperating with young U23 Gent-Wevelgem Mads Pederson from Stölting he couldn't close the gap to the dysfunctional "every man for himself"-group up front. Clearly the form is there though and Sky are looking increasingly dangerous for Flanders.

Top 10 Stage 1 Driedaagse

  1. Alexander Kristoff
  2. Andrey Lutsenko
  3. Lieuwe Westra
  4. Mads Pedersen + 29 sec
  5. Luke Rowe +29
  6. Pim Ligthart +36
  7. Manuel Belletti
  8. Juraj Sagan
  9. Sean De Bie
  10. Marco Haller
Lieuwe Westra attacks on the Tenbosse
KRISTOF VAN ACCOM/AFP/Getty Images

Where's Etixx?

As of now Sagan and Cancellara once again look like the favorites to win on Sunday if you ask the Belgians. Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet the outsiders and then there isn't much faith in anyone after that even if Boonen gets some pity votes. Expect Kristoff to start shooting up in this poll if he repeats todays performance tomorrow though. People have probably already started looking at the replays from 2013 to try and pre-write the columns for Monday morning the way Sagan and Cance are looking at the moment especially if there don't come any signs of life from the catatonic carcass that is Etixx-Quickstep. Granted none of their bigs are in De Panne but even their potential workhorse failed to impress today. Add to their woes that young Yves Lampaert is now completely ruled out of the classics with his unfortunate supermarket accident where his girlfriend managed to hit his achilles tendon with a shopping cart.

With the Boonen talk very much about plenty of time to be in form for Roubaix and Martin also obviously geared up for that you have to wonder if Lefevere's boys more or less gave up on Flanders the moment they saw the move run away from them on the Kemmelberg and set their mental sights on Roubaix instead? Stybar is clearly coming up just short at the moment and Terpstra has been schackled so permanently to the galley oar in the races that you have to wonder if he can't or isn't allowed to go with the moves. At this point the only way they win Flanders is with a massive early attack strategy to pre-empt the final Kwaremont-Pater moves of the in-form riders. It's the opposite of what they've been doing so far though and not really in their character to ride the race as if they were longshot outsiders rather than top favorites. In reality though that is exactly what they are at this point. Not that I expect them to accept it. It's a pity because it could be the recipe for one hell of a race if they did.