After a pair of stage wins in the UAE Tour and Paris-Nice, Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) put his sprinting prowess on display in De Panne to claim his first one-day victory of the season in the Classic Brugge-De Panne.
The Irishman blasted past Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), with Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) unable to make up any ground in the fast final 200m and settling for third.
The victory was Bennett's first in a one-day WorldTour race, although he has some 50 wins on his palmares, and Deceuninck-QuickStep's second Classic of the season after Davide Ballerini won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
"It's super important to get this win," Bennett said. "Being in a Belgian team with Belgian sponsors, we want to perform on home soil. For myself, personally, it's my first one-day WorldTour race - something I've been chasing for many years and I'm happy to get it here today."
French champion Arnaud Démare, perhaps the only sprinter capable of challenging Bennett in such a fast finish, suffered a mechanical just as he launched his sprint and, despite being in a good position before the sprint started, finished outside the top 10.
Bennett explained that he did not immediately follow Philipsen's early sprint. "He jumped early but I could feel there was a bit of a headwind so I decided to wait longer and then go," Bennett said. "I don't focus on anybody else around me, I was just doing my own sprint."
The Irishman was somewhat critical of the technical nature of the final kilometres, which were full of sharp turns including one with only 800m to go. Rather than be at the head of the bunch, Bennett was tucked in with his teammates until the final kilometre when Michael Mørkøv brought him to the front.
"I was a little bit nervous, there was too many yellow poles and brick walls and footsteps coming up for a bunch sprint like that. It's an important race and everyone wants to be there. You have a lot of riders under pressure and we all want to get a result - you don't need that in the final. It was a good day and a great race today."
How it unfolded
It was a sunny start for the 2021 Brugge-De Panne with French champion Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Tour de France green jersey winner Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and European champion Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos) given front row honours at 't Zand square on the edge of the historic city centre. Riders took a 5.2km neutral rollout before the flag dropped along the Torhoutsesteenweg to start the 203.9km race aiming for a piece of the €41,000 prize list.
With only a light breeze coming from the west, the first 20km went off at a brisk pace with a few attacks unable to go clear in the slight cross-headwind.
When the course shifted from a southwesterly heading and jogged to the northeast near Koekelare, Wout van Elzakker (Vini Zabu' Brado KTM), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Gerben Thijssen (Lotto Soudal), Erik Nordsaeter Resell (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team), Barnabás Peák (Team BikeExchange), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R Citroën Team) finally managed to break the grip of the peloton, who were more than happy to give the six men a long leash.
The gap started small but began to grow as the sprinters' teams were fine with waiting until the three 45km closing circuits to reel in the escapees, and what was a 38-second gap ballooned to four minutes as they covered 42.3km in the first hour of racing.
As the leaders approached the entry to the circuits after 51.5km of racing, Tim 'the tractor' Declercq was already at the front of the peloton to set the pace, and, along with some help from Groupama-FDJ for Démare, the gap to the leaders fell to 3:36 as they crossed the line for the first time.
There's a road along the route that runs north to south: it's W. Cobergherstraat and in the Moeren region where the westerly winds slice through the peloton like knives and even without the howling gales of 2020's edition, the section was enough to split the peloton into two behind the six leaders, with Démare and Nizzolo safely tucked in the first group led by Jumbo-Visma, with Deceuninck-Quickstep notably absent. There was no panic, however, as the Belgian Classics giants welded the groups back together and took control of the pace again with 100km to go.
A gap of 2:15 to the six leaders at the midpoint was obliterated by the time the race reached the Moeren for the second time with 80km to go and although the flags along the course were whipping a bit more the wind never threatened to shattered the bunch like the previous year. Whether through a crash or other reasons Arkéa Samsic sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Victorious), Declercq and Sean De Bie (Bingoal WB) had all left the race and with 77km to go the race was all back together.
Soon, the attacks began to fly, with Sebastian Mora (Movistar) launching a solo move with 72km to go and he was followed by Jack Bauer (BikeExchange). In the chase, Frederik Madsen (Uno-X) crashed and all hell broke loose in the bunch. Bingoal launched a chase, bringing Bauer back and Trek-Segafredo also came forward to try and force a selection behind Mora. However, Groupama-FDJ said no, and the chasing peloton was all back together, hanging Mora out to dry.
But Mora, a former track world champion and multi-time European champion in the track endurance events was keen to stay out front and held a 20-25 second gap for quite some time, perhaps motivated by the €1,000 bonus for most combative rider.
Behind him, a crash in a narrowing with 56km to go brought down Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ), who was caught out as a small group of riders dashed onto a side path and Steward was squeezed into the kerb and went down. Despite the spill, some other close encounters in the bunch, and another crash from Christophe Noppe (Arkéa-Samsic) - with the exact same modus operandi as Stewart's - Mora's gap was still only a dozen seconds heading into the final hour of racing.
Mora finally came back to the bunch as they passed through De Panne ahead of the final lap with 48km to go and stopped to search for his team bus. Nathan van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma) set the pace heading into the final lap as the survivors in the peloton had a breather, some snacks and topped up from their bidons ahead of the frantic final 45km.
With 31km to go, Lluis Mas (Movistar) and Davide Martinelli (Astana-Premier Tech) put in an attack and although they never got that much of a gap they provided a foil for their teams and had a smoother time navigating the numerous narrowings, turns, traffic islands and bumps on the final circuit but were caught with 21.5km to go.
As the race passed through Veurne with 20km to go, an attack from Lotto Soudal's Brent Van Moer had about the same success - the Belgian inching out a 10-second gap in the narrow twists and turns that was quickly nullified on the wider open roads coming into Koksijde with 11.2km to go and the fight to hold position for the sprint was on.
Trek-Segafredo lost an option when Edward Theuns punctured with 8.5km to go on the narrow roads of the Hoge Blekker nature preserve and struggled to get back through the team cars but was helped back by Kiel Reijnen.
Team DSM, AG2R Citroën and Groupama-FDJ fought for control heading into 5km to go and Démare's men won out, at least temporarily as Jumbo-Visma challenged and riders swarmed onto the bike lanes and side paths and muddied the lead-out trains, giving B&B Hotels a chance to lead the pointy end of the race with 2km to go.
On the sinuous final 2km, Team DSM allowed Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) to open up a gap, making Deceuninck-Quickstep finally come forward to reel him in. Démare bombed the final turn on his teammate's wheel as QuickStep held the lead for Bennett, with Ackermann tucked in next to Jasper Philipsen, but the Irishman was far too powerful for his rivals and sealed his teammate's work with a convincing victory.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-QuickStep||4:27:40|
|2||Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|3||Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|4||Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|5||Timothy Dupont (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|6||Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-up Nation|
|7||Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM|
|8||Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|9||Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis|
|10||Stanislaw Aniolkowski (Pol) Bingoal WB|
|11||Clément Russo (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|12||Lorrenzo Manzin (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|13||Jérémy Lecroq (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|14||Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Col) UAE Team Emirates|
|15||Florian Vermeersch (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|16||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain Victorious|
|17||Daniel McLay (GBr) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|18||Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|19||Matteo Moschetti (Ita) Trek-Segafredo|
|20||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|21||Arne Marit (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|22||Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech|
|23||Rick Zabel (Ger) Israel Start-up Nation|
|24||Alexander Konychev (Ita) Team BikeExchange|
|25||Lawrence Naesen (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|26||Maximilian Walscheid (Ger) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|27||David Dekker (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|28||Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|29||Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|30||Martin Laas (Est) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|31||Jordi Warlop (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|32||Luka Mezgec (Slo) Team BikeExchange|
|33||Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:00:10|
|34||Mikkel Bjerg (Den) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:12|
|35||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|36||Artyom Zakharov (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech|
|37||Ryan Gibbons (RSA) UAE Team Emirates|
|38||Anthony Jullien (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team|
|39||Gabriel Cullaigh (GBr) Movistar Team|
|40||Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis|
|41||Juraj Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|42||Jan Petelin (Lux) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|43||Marc Sarreau (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team|
|44||Yevgeniy Fedorov (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech|
|45||Niklas Märkl (Ger) Team DSM|
|46||Luis Mas Bonet (Spa) Movistar Team|
|47||Julien Duval (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team|
|48||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation|
|49||Lionel Taminiaux (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|50||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Total Direct Energie|
|51||Jack Bauer (NZl) Team BikeExchange|
|52||Emils Liepins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo|
|53||Gonzalo Serrano Rodriguez (Spa) Movistar Team|
|54||Roberto González (Pan) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|55||Rüdiger Selig (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:18|
|56||Jens Debusschere (Bel) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|57||Donavan Grondin (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic||0:00:19|
|58||Jens Reynders (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|59||Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation|
|60||Benjamin Perry (Can) Astana-Premier Tech|
|61||Juri Hollmann (Ger) Movistar Team|
|62||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|63||Danny van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|64||Alberto Dainese (Ita) Team DSM|
|65||Stefano Oldani (Ita) Lotto Soudal|
|66||Connor Swift (GBr) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|67||Johan Jacobs (Swi) Movistar Team|
|68||Damien Touze (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team||0:00:23|
|69||Norman Vahtra (Est) Israel Start-up Nation|
|70||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:24|
|71||Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:26|
|72||Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:00:27|
|73||Alexis Renard (Fra) Israel Start-up Nation||0:00:29|
|74||Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|75||Boy van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux||0:00:34|
|76||Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Cofidis||0:00:38|
|77||Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis||0:00:34|
|78||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|79||Riccardo Minali (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|80||Etienne van Empel (Ned) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM||0:00:44|
|81||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|82||Ryan Mullen (Irl) Trek-Segafredo|
|83||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Bahrain Victorious|
|84||Ruben Apers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|85||Leonardo Tortomasi (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|86||Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|87||Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|88||Davide Martinelli (Ita) Astana-Premier Tech|
|89||Ludwig De Winter (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|90||Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|91||Erik Nordsaeter Resell (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|92||Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Team Qhubeka Assos||0:00:51|
|93||Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|94||Barnabás Peák (Hun) Team BikeExchange|
|95||Laurenz Rex (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|96||Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|97||Jonas Castrique (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|98||Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) UAE Team Emirates|
|99||Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Jumbo-Visma|
|100||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|101||Tom Bohli (Swi) Cofidis|
|102||Alex Edmondson (Aus) Team BikeExchange|
|103||Jonathan Milan (Ita) Bahrain Victorious|
|104||Sasha Weemaes (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|105||Joab Schneiter (Swi) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|106||Piet Allegaert (Bel) Cofidis|
|107||Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|108||Fabian Lienhard (Swi) Groupama-FDJ|
|109||Brent Van Moer (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|110||Sébastien Grignard (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|111||Andreas Nielsen (Den) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|112||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|113||Jos van Emden (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|114||Marco Haller (Aut) Bahrain Victorious|
|115||André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-up Nation|
|116||Alvaro Hodeg Chagui (Col) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|117||Nicola Bagioli (Ita) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|118||Bert De Backer (Bel) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|119||Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel) Jumbo-Visma|
|120||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Jumbo-Visma|
|121||Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech|
|122||Senne Leysen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|123||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|124||Syver Wærsted (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|125||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Total Direct Energie|
|126||Andrea Di Renzo (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
|127||Christophe Noppe (Bel) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|128||Scott Thwaites (GBr) Alpecin-Fenix|
|129||Oscar Riesebeek (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix|
|130||Szymon Sajnok (Pol) Cofidis|
|131||Julien Morice (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM|
|132||Andreas Leknessund (Nor) Team DSM|
|133||Florian Maitre (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|134||Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team|
|135||Stijn Steels (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|136||Robbe Ghys (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|137||Patrick Gamper (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|138||Joel Suter (Swi) Bingoal WB|
|139||Fabio Van Den Bossche (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:01:10|
|140||Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM||0:01:13|
|141||Damien Gaudin (Fra) Total Direct Energie||0:01:31|
|142||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team DSM|
|143||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:01:36|
|144||Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:01:39|
|145||Jake Stewart (GBr) Groupama-FDJ||0:01:59|
|146||Fred Wright (GBr) Bahrain Victorious|
|147||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|148||Luca Mozzato (Ita) B&B Hotels p/b KTM||0:02:05|
|149||Ludovic Robeet (Bel) Bingoal WB||0:02:34|
|150||Adrien Petit (Fra) Total Direct Energie|
|151||Nico Denz (Ger) Team DSM||0:02:47|
|152||Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|153||Jimmy Janssens (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:02:52|
|154||Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo||0:03:23|
|155||Gerben Thijssen (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:04:00|
|156||Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) Total Direct Energie||0:04:52|
|157||Martin Salmon (Ger) Team DSM|
|158||Rui Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Hugo Houle (Can) Astana-Premier Tech|
|DNS||Harry Sweeny (Aus) Lotto Soudal|
|DNS||Niklas Larsen (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|DNF||Jakob Egholm (Den) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Chun Kai Feng (Tpe) Bahrain Victorious|
|DNF||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain Victorious|
|DNF||Jasper De Plus (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|DNF||Alexys Brunel (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Sebastian Mora Vedri (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|DNF||Sean De Bie (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|DNF||Frederik Rodenberg Madsen (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Anders Skaarseth (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Wout van Elzakker (Ned) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM|
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