Simone Consonni started his professional career with eighth place on the first stage of the Dubai Tour earlier in the year, improving to fourth place on stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour a few weeks later. At the Three Days of De Panne, the UAE Team Emirates rider again impressed on the opening stage where he placed third to Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) and Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott)
Consonni, a bronze medallist from the 2015 U23 Worlds, beat Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal) and Trek-Segafredo’s Matthias Brandle in a three-up sprint to the line in Zottegem. He will start stage 2 as the best young rider, and 43 seconds down on race leader Gilbert.
"I'm so happy, today is a great day for me: what a feeling to see my name in the stage classification just behind Gilbert and Durbridge," said Consonni, who raced in the team pursuit at the rio Olympic Games. "I'm satisfied also because in my career I raced few competitions over 200 km of distance and I had good feelings today about this topic, Belgian races give me extra-motivations for fighting and trying to achieve a top result.
De Panne, the stage race sandwiched into the cobbled classics for the last 41 seasons, is the third Belgian race of the spring for Consonni who also rode Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. The 2016 U23 Italian national champion has shown his characteristics best suited to one-day racing but only had limited experience of racing in Belgium prior to turning professional due to track commitments
Adding to Consonni's result was the inclusion of the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen climb on stage 1 which the peloton went over twice. It was on the short and steep cobbled climb where Consonni made the decisive move as he explained.
"After the second passage on the Muur, when De Buyst and Brandle attacked, I understood it was necessary to exploit my energies and to follow the, then in the sprint I was so motivated that I was pretty sure I could achieve the podium," he said.
"I thank my team mates and the team's staff members for all the good advice they give me everyday."
With the next two stages likely to be decided in a bunch sprint, stage 3b's time trial appears likely yo settle the race classifications. However, De Panne has proven to be an unpredictable race with the Belgian hellingen, weather and bonus seconds sure to spring a few surprises.
The challenge for Consonni will be the time trial as the 22-year-old hasn’t ridden against the clock since the 2016 Tour de l’Avenir where he was 100th on the 16km stage 4. Regardless of his overall result, Consonni will make his Tour of Flanders debut Sunday. However, compatriot, teammate and 2016 U23 Paris-Roubaix winner Filippo Ganna is not yet a certain starter after he crashed out of Gent-Wevelgem.
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