Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) used his power and sprinting skills to win stage 5 of the Benelux Tour on the rising finish in Bilzen after an intense 192 kilometres of racing in the Belgian Limburg hills near Maastricht and Liege.
Bahrain Victorious lead out the sprint in the twisting final kilometre for Sonny Colbrelli. The Italian national champion hit out early but Ewan came past him in sight of the line to take his first victory since crashing out of the Tour de France.
Colbrelli finished second, with Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) taking third ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo).
Stage 2 time trial winner Stefan Bissigger (EF Education-Nippo) was dropped during the final lap and so Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) took the race leader’s blue jersey. Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) is only two seconds behind him, with Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) third overall at six seconds.
Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) had been expected to take the race lead after his teammates chased the early break of the day and shook out the peloton on the steep climbs through the trees. Asgreen attacked on the Kleiberg climb during the final circuit with 15km to go. He failed to get away but the high-speed and other attacks cracked Bissigger and spat out a number of other riders.
Asgreen was up front and vigilant with 10km to go but was forced to suddenly stop after a corner, seemingly to put his chain back on and reset his gears. He began to chase with several teammates and then alone but the Dane finished 43 seconds behind Ewan. It was a further blow for Deceuninck-QuickStep after Remco Evenepoel did not start after a recurrence of his stomach problems.
Asgreen’s rivals did not wait for him with Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious), Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) and Stuyven going on the attack several times before Bahrain Victorious and Lotto Soudal took control and set up the sprint finish.
Tim Merlier was there for Alpecin-Fenix but lost position after a bump with a rival. Sagan was on Colbrelli’s wheel when the Italian kicked early but Ewan came from behind him with a superb burst of power to edge ahead just before the finish line.
Ewan crashed in the sprint at the end of stage 3 of the Tour de France, suffering a displaced complex fracture of the right collarbone. He was unable to return to form in time for the Vuelta a España but now hopes to find form for the World Championships in Flanders, where he will share Australian team leadership with Michael Matthews.
“I didn’t know how my legs would feel when I opened up the sprint but in general a finish like that really suits me, when it’s uphill but it was a super tough day,” Ewan explained.
“We saw attacks going early on, with 50km to go, and so it wasn’t an easy win but I’m very happy with it. My team did a great job. We had to use guys early because we wanted the break to come back early. So we were down a few guys later on. But Tim [Wellens] put me in a really good position with two and a half kilometres to go and it was where we needed to be.
“This is an important win for me. I ride for a Belgian team and it’s always nice to win in my team’s home country. This is my first win here and it's a nice one to have on my palmares.”
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