Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) claimed his third victory of the season, taking out the Bredene Koksijde Classic ahead of former world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-Quickstep) in a small bunch sprint.
The early part of the race was dominated by a 13-rider breakaway and an 18-man chasing group until the race entered three local laps around Koksijde.
Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked the leading group and looked set to solo to victory, only to be brought back with just 1.4km to go.
Merlier's teammate Jonas Rickaert led the group into the final few hundred metres and timed the effort perfectly, pulling off with 250 metres to go and, after a few pedal strokes from Sénéchal's teammate, Merlier – winner of Le Samyn and the GP Jean-Pierre Monseré earlier this month – leapt clear and powered to the line a clean pair of wheels ahead of Pedersen.
"I think I'm on the same level as when I won the Belgian Championships," Merlier said after the race. "I was not good, my legs were acidifying. At the first passage on the Kemmelberg I was too far back. I really thought my race was over.
"At the second passage I knew I had to be good, and luckily I was with the chasers. After that we dangled behind the leaders for a hundred kilometres, but when we caught up, I knew I still had a chance because my legs were still good.
"In the end I looked backwards, which I really shouldn't have done. It drives me crazy. But then I saw I had a few lengths and I laid me flat. I am happy, because last year I did not reach this level."
How it unfolded
A windy, brisk but sunny day greeted riders in the afternoon in Bredene for the start of the 199km race and for the first hour of racing was contested at top speeds with the winds already pushing riders to form echelons. The flat run out to the dual ascents of the Kemmelberg already broke up the bunch and when the race hit the climbs, Qhubeka-Assos lit up the race and put three riders into a leading group of 13.
The group included Tim Declercq and Florian Senechal (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Lasse Norman Hansen, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg and Max Walscheid (Team Qhubeka Assos), Alex Kirsch and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), Rui Oliveira (UAE Team Emirates), Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Fenix), Nils Politt and Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), (Deceuninck-QuickStep), and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Start-up Nation) but were chased by a larger second group on the flat, windswept return to Koksijde.
With 45km still to race, the second group of 18 riders closed the leaders to 36 seconds with the larger peloton a distant two minutes behind.
That group contained Josef Černy (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Mikkel Bjerg and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Michal Golas (Ineos Grenadiers), Alexander Kamp (Trek-Segafredo), Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ), Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal), Tim Merlier and Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix), Christophe Noppe and Bram Welten (Team Arkea-Samsic), Eduard-Michael Grosu and Dušan Rajović (Delko), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) and Stanisław Aniłkowski (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles).
Despite the concerted efforts of Rickaert to keep the rotation going, the determination of the leaders was even more coordinated and with 40km to go the gap was going the wrong way for Merlier's group at 44 seconds.
The situation began to reverse as the riders reached the closing three circuits with 31km to go – especially after the leaders missed a sharp turn a kilometer later and the chasers received better directions.
Pöstlberger, Sénéchal and Planckaert had a go with 27km to go, breaking the previous truce, ditching Kirsch but not the rider they most feared, Pedersen. Pöstlberger continued on after the others were brought back and managed to open up a gap of about 15 seconds.
With one of the two Bora riders up the road, it was up to the Qhubeka-Assos trio to lead the chase.
As they passed under the two laps to go banner Pöstlberger had 19 seconds on his previous companions and the second chasing group were lagging at 51 seconds.
Inside 20km to go, Alpecin-Fenix still had belief and Merlier himself began working to bring back the riders - the leader at 18 seconds and chasers at 35 seconds up the road.
Pöstlberger continued to persist with a 15-second lead but the gap between the two chasing groups behind also fell until the two came together before one lap to go.
Leknessund and Janse van Rensburg came across the line with a slight advantage on the other chasers but they were brought back under the pressure of Trek-Segafredo's Kamp. With only eight seconds and 8km to go, Pöstlberger's time out front was coming to an end.
The dunes of Koksijde loomed over the bunch as they got the Austrian in sight. Rickaert punched it off the front, forcing Trek-Segafredo to expend Kirsch in the chase. Politt feigned an attack then sat up to try and help his teammate and it doubled his advantage to seven seconds with 5km to go.
Another kilometre of riders looking at each other, not wanting to tow Pedersen to the line and Pöstlberger had 13 seconds in hand and a lot more confidence in his solo move.
At last, with 10 seconds and 2.3km to go, Qhubeka Assos, Deceuninck-Quickstep and Qhubeka Assos managed to find enough pace to bring the gap down and finally shut down the Austrian's move with 1.4km to go.
It was a small bunch sprint and advantage for the riders with teammates - Rickaert took control of the lead-out for Merlier with Quickstep hot on his heels.
The former Belgian champion sat on Sénéchal's lead-out until what looked like an early jump but Merlier held off Pedersen and the Deceuninck-Quickstep rider for the win.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||4:13:43|
|2||Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo|
|3||Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|4||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation|
|5||Eduard-Michael Grosu (Rom) Delko|
|6||Stanislaw Aniolkowski (Pol) Bingoal WB|
|7||Maximilian Walscheid (Ger) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|8||Bram Welten (Ned) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|9||Nils Politt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|10||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|11||Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|12||Jake Stewart (GBr) Groupama-FDJ|
|13||Rui Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:02|
|14||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|15||Mikkel Bjerg (Den) UAE Team Emirates|
|16||Harry Sweeny (Aus) Lotto Soudal|
|17||Michal Golas (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers|
|18||Josef Cerny (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:00:06|
|19||Andreas Leknessund (Nor) Team DSM|
|20||Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:00:10|
|21||Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Team Qhubeka Assos||0:00:16|
|22||Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:01:09|
|23||Anders Skaarseth (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||0:01:28|
|24||Jordi Warlop (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|25||Alexander Kamp (Den) Trek-Segafredo||0:03:09|
|26||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Team Qhubeka Assos||0:03:50|
|27||Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|28||Alex Kirsch (Lux) Trek-Segafredo||0:04:19|
|29||Edward Planckaert (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:04:27|
|30||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:05:38|
|31||Milan Menten (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|32||Giovanni Lonardi (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|33||Shane Archbold (NZl) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|34||Tom Paquot (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|35||Yoeri Havik (Ned) Beat Cycling|
|36||Donavan Grondin (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|37||Yves Coolen (Bel) Beat Cycling|
|38||Lewis Askey (GBr) Groupama-FDJ Continental|
|39||Norman Vahtra (Est) Israel Start-up Nation|
|40||Alfdan De Decker (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|41||Thimo Willems (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|42||Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis|
|43||Szymon Sajnok (Pol) Cofidis|
|44||Martin Laas (Est) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|45||Mattia Bevilacqua (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|46||Florian Maitre (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|47||Jan Willem van Schip (Ned) Beat Cycling|
|48||Etienne van Empel (Ned) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM||0:05:42|
|49||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|50||Samuele Zoccarato (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|51||Tobias Bayer (Aut) Alpecin-Fenix|
|52||Patrick Gamper (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|53||Davide Orrico (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|54||Matthew Walls (GBr) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|55||Rüdiger Selig (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|56||Thomas Boudat (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|57||Evaldas Siskevicius (Ltu) Delko|
|58||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|59||August Jensen (Nor) Delko|
|60||Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers|
|61||Niklas Märkl (Ger) Team DSM|
|62||Riccardo Minali (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|63||Pierre Barbier (Fra) Delko|
|64||Andreas Goeman (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|65||Ruben Apers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|66||Timothy Dupont (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|67||Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel Start-up Nation|
|68||Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|69||Emils Liepins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo|
|70||Jonas Castrique (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|71||Syver Wærsted (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|72||Matteo Moschetti (Ita) Trek-Segafredo|
|73||Frederik Backaert (Bel) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|74||Julien Morice (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|75||Boy van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|76||Gianni Marchand (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|77||Wesley Kreder (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|78||Piotr Havik (Ned) Beat Cycling|
|79||Andreas Nielsen (Den) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|80||Antonio Puppio (Ita) Team Qhubeka|
|81||Fabian Lienhard (Swi) Groupama-FDJ|
|82||José Gonçalves (Por) Delko|
|83||Samuel Leroux (Fra) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole||0:05:54|
|84||Emiel Vermeulen (Bel) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|85||Dusan Rajovic (Srb) Delko|
|86||Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|87||André Carvalho (Por) Cofidis|
|88||Alex Richardson (GBr) Alpecin-Fenix|
|89||Tom Wirtgen (Lux) Bingoal WB|
|90||Alexis Renard (Fra) Israel Start-up Nation|
|91||Iljo Keisse (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|92||Alberto Dainese (Ita) Team DSM|
|93||Jens Debusschere (Bel) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|94||Christophe Noppe (Bel) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|95||Bert De Backer (Bel) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|96||Damien Gaudin (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|97||Stijn Steels (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|98||Morten Hulgaard (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|99||Jelle Wallays (Bel) Cofidis||0:06:11|
|100||Lionel Taminiaux (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|DNS||Nils Eekhoff (Ned) Team DSM|
|DNF||Juraj Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Ian Garrison (USA) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|DNF||Aleksandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Juan Sebastian Molano Benavides (Col) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Ivo Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Leon Heinschke (Ger) Development Team DSM|
|DNF||Martin Salmon (Ger) Team DSM|
|DNF||Enzo Leijnse (Ned) Development Team DSM|
|DNF||Jhonatan Narvaez Prado (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers|
|DNF||Cameron Wurf (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers|
|DNF||Carlos Rodriguez Cano (Spa) Ineos Grenadiers|
|DNF||Alexys Brunel (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Rait Ärm (Est) Groupama-FDJ Continental|
|DNF||Clément Davy (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Filippo Conca (Ita) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Matthew Holmes (GBr) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Sébastien Grignard (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Sylvain Moniquet (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Gerben Thijssen (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Tom Bohli (Swi) Cofidis|
|DNF||Emmanuel Morin (Fra) Cofidis|
|DNF||Taj Jones (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy|
|DNF||Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|DNF||Dylan Sunderland (Aus) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|DNF||Jasper De Plus (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|DNF||Ludwig De Winter (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|DNF||Théo Delacroix (Fra) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|DNF||Danny van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|DNF||Markus Pajur (Est) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|DNF||Alan Riou (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|DNF||Clément Carisey (Fra) Delko|
|DNF||Jonas Van Genechten (Bel) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|DNF||Kevin Reza (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|DNF||Jeremy Cabot (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|DNF||Paul Ourselin (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|DNF||Marlon Gaillard (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|DNF||Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|DNF||Boris Vallee (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|DNF||Niklas Larsen (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Erik Nordsaeter Resell (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Alex Colman (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Kenny De Ketele (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Jens Reynders (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Sasha Weemaes (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Andrea Bartolozzi (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|DNF||Alessandro Iacchi (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|DNF||Joab Schneiter (Swi) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|DNF||Wout van Elzakker (Ned) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|DNF||Nicolas Dalla Valle (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|DNF||Mirco Maestri (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|DNF||Fabio Mazzucco (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|DNF||Alessandro Monaco (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|DNF||Thibau Verhofstadt (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|DNF||Thomas Joseph (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|DNF||Lennert Teugels (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|DNF||Enzo Wouters (Bel) Tarteletto-Isorex|
|DNF||Mathias De Witte (Bel) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|DNF||Jérémy Leveau (Fra) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|DNF||Thomas Denis (Fra) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|DNF||Maximilien Picoux (Bel) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|DNF||Valentin Tabellion (Fra) Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|DNF||Martijn Budding (Ned) Beat Cycling|
|DNF||Jules Hesters (Bel) Beat Cycling|
|DNF||Stefano Museeuw (Bel) Beat Cycling|
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news.
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