Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) won stage 1 of the Baloise Belgium Tour from a bunch sprint in Maarkedal. His powerful sprint on a slight uphill finish could not be matched as Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) finished second and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) third.
Trek-Segafredo was present at the front of the race for most of the 165km opening stage, putting their rider in the first leader’s jersey of the five-day stage race. It was the sixth victory of the year for Pedersen.
“It was a really tough race. I think it is one of the warmest days of racing for me this year, and normally I’m not that good in the heat. The final is really hard with the climb at two and a half K to go, and even the sprint is a tough one,” Pedersen said at the finish.
“Jasper [Philipsen], he opened quite early and he made a gap already. Luckily for me he popped a little bit in the last metres and I could pass. It was a really good day. My teammates did impressive work all day, and it’s nice to give them a win.”
In the final 500 metres Philipsen accelerated to the front, but as he reached the crest of the small finishing hill was unable to keep Pedersen at bay. The Alpecin-Fenix rider did manage to keep Quinten Hermans (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) off the podium, edging him at the line.
“I came here to have a stage win, and now we have one, so yes why not try and win the GC," Pedersen added. "This was one of the hardest days, so yeah, it’s possible, but still a long week of racing left. We will see. This is not the main goal; the main goal is to try to have another stage win and then do a good TT.”
How it unfolded
The opening stage started near Ghent in Merelbeke and headed across small roads and sections of cobbles for an unrelenting 16 climbs, most of them in the second half of the route on the local circuits to Maarkedal.
With 114km to go several riders attacked on the approach to the climb of Berendries (1km at 6.8%). The quintet containing Luke Mudgway (Bolton Equities Black Spoke Pro Cycling), Jorre Debaele (Minerva Cycling), Nick van der Meer (VolkerWessels Cycling Team), and Tartletto-Isorex duo of Gianni Marchand and Kobe Vanoverschelde stayed away until they reached the first of four technical finishing circuits with approximately 60km to go.
The relentless ups and downs on the circuit provided fertile ground for multiple attacks. The first duo to strike out were Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) and Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic). They were caught a few kilometres up the road, but managed to stretch out the peloton and cause a couple of top sprinters to struggle to stay connected, including Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
Mark Donovan (Team DSM) launched a solo attack as riders closed toward the second climb on the circuit, Berg Ten Houte. Trek-Segafredo led the chase behind on the cobbles, as Donovan stretched his lead to over one minute.
More attacks were fired by Trek, QuickStep and Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert which chipped away at Donovan’s lead and brought him back with 30.5km to go, resulting in Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) slipping out of the back of the peloton.
On the bell lap, only Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) tried an unsuccessful solo attack, leaving the big sprinters teams to battle it out in the final kilometres.
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