Lotto Soudal's John Degenkolb sprinted to victory on stage 3 of the Tour de Luxembourg in Schifflange on Thursday, putting the disappointment of having to leave this year's Tour de France after finishing outside the time limit on the opening stage in Nice due to a crash firmly behind him.
Degenkolb injured his knee in a crash on stage 1 of the Tour de France in what were wet and slippery conditions, causing a number of other riders to fall, including teammate Philippe Gilbert, who fractured his knee and also had to leave the race. Like Degenkolb, however, Gilbert has made a quick recovery, and is also currently racing in Luxembourg.
"I was well protected end kept out of the wind by my teammates, and we've been working together so well," Degenkolb said on his team's website after his win on Thursday, which was his first victory for Lotto Soudal since joining the Belgian WorldTour team this season.
"In the final kilometres, Tosh Van der Sande did a tremendous job leading me out. I am so, so happy with victory," he said, beating Belgians Eduard-Michael Grosu (Nippo Delko One Provence) and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Circus-Wanty Gobert). "It's nice to give something back to the team, and the fact that this is my first win for Lotto Soudal makes it extra special.
"This win comes only 19 days after my crash on the opening stage of the Tour," Degenkolb added. "This victory is a sign that I was in really good shape starting the Tour. The knee is getting better, and at the moment I don't feel any pain anymore.
"We had to try to make up for what were two difficult opening stages here in Luxembourg," he said, "especially since Tomasz Marczyński and Harm Vanhoucke could not start this morning because of the isolation measures. That was a setback for Lotto Soudal and we only started the stage with four remaining riders."
Polish rider Marczyński had shown symptoms of the coronavirus, so as a precaution it was decided to send him, roommate Harm Vanhoucke and a member of Lotto Soudal staff who he'd been in contact with home from the race, although the results of a COVID-19 test later proved to be negative, and Marczyński was set to have more medical tests on Thursday to determine the cause of his symptoms.
"There are still some chances left for the team in the next two stages, but not for me," Degenkolb admitted. "I will support Tim [Wellens], Tosh and Phil in the next stages. Tim is feeling better and better and can target the general classification."
Wellens was unable to start this year's Tour de France after crashing while motor-pacing in training a week before the race, injuring his shoulder, elbow and knee, but he, too, has recovered in time to race in Luxembourg.
"I've also been selected for the World Championships next week," Degenkolb added, with what is a hilly elite men's road race in Imola, Italy, set to take place on Sunday, September 27. "That selection might come as a surprise for some, but today's win is proof of my good form. The course in Imola doesn't suit my characteristics, so I will ride in a support role for Germany."
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