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Lieuwe Westra enters his fifth year with the Vacansoleil squad
Vacansoleil captain saving his legs for final time trial
The Vacansoleil-DCM leader, who has finished second overall in the last two editions of the race, finished stage 1 in 42nd place, nine seconds down on Peter Sagan, who now leads Westra by 19 seconds on general classification with the stage winner's time bonus factored in. However, the most crucial time gaps involved 2012 winner Sylvain Chavanel and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Niki Terpstra, who both finished in the same group as Sagan. Neither Chavanel nor Terpstra earned any time bonuses on the stage and both remain nine seconds ahead of Westra on general classification.
Sagan initiated the winning move in the final kilometres of the stage to Zottegem, pulling a group of nine riders with him. Westra attempted an initial counter attack on the run into the finish but was ultimately unsuccessful.
"The beginning of the stage was good for me but the last 10 kilometres things weren't as good. I tried to come across to the leaders in the final but the legs weren't that good, not with the weather," Westra told Cyclingnews at the finish.
Westra's consistency in previous editions of De Panne has been down to his tactical knowledge as well as his ability to compete with the best riders in the final stage time trial. With two sprint stages to come the 30-year-old will sit tight in the peloton as both Chavanel and Terpstra work for Mark Cavendish in the sprints.
Asked if he thought the overall had slipped through his fingers, Westra replied:
"No, no. I think I lost maybe 8 to 10 seconds so for a time trial of 15km that's nothing. Chavanel is the favourite now and he's in good shape but for me 8 to 10 seconds isn't a problem. When I have a good day then anything is possible. Today wasn't so good though. For tomorrow I'll save my strength in the peloton and save myself for the time trial."
Westra has started the season strongly, although he has lacked the level he reached in 2012. So far this season he has finished third overall in the Volta ao Algarve and eight in Paris-Nice.
"I'm happy with my level. I was top ten in Paris-Nice and on the podium Algarve and Besseges was good for me too. I'm happy with my condition."