Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) claimed his third victory of the season at the Classic Brugge-De Panne, edging Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) at the finish line by millimetres in an agonisingly close sprint finish to end the 208-kilometre race.
The Belgian flew up the barriers in the closing metres, going head-to-head with his Dutch rival before prevailing by the finest of margins as Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) grabbed third just behind the duo.
"I launched quickly, and I was a bit lucky that the door didn't close," Merlier said after his victory. "I felt Groenewegen coming and had to 'snake' as we say, but in the end, it was just enough.
"The run-up to the sprint was actually indescribable. If they would show pictures of that... I'm glad I got to the finish safely. I knew the dangerous parts. A fresh peloton is always dangerous, of course.
"We're not allowed on the bike path, but sometimes you just can't do anything else when you have to swerve. That makes it extra dangerous, because you want to get off as soon as possible.
"Scheldeprijs is also coming up, but I'm quite satisfied with the season I've already ridden. It's my third win already and I'm quite proud of that."
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl had, unsurprisingly taken control at the head of the peloton inside the final kilometre of the race but come the final dash to the line their man Mark Cavendish was caught out of position, detached from lead-out man Michael Mørkøv.
At the front, 20-year-old Olav Kooij launched the sprint, going long as he hit the front with 250 metres left to run. That move proved a mistake, though, as the Jumbo-Visma rider was swamped closer to the line, with Merlier sneaking past against the barriers as Groenewegen jumped to the middle of the road.
The pair hit the wind at 150 metres to go and were barely separable to the line, the finish too close to call by the naked eye. Bouhanni came around the outside of Groenewegen but had only just missed the prime time to go, coming in less than a wheel length down on the top two.
Just behind the podium finishers, Max Walscheid (Cofidis) let out a road of frustration as he finished half a bike length off the win in between Merlier and Groenewegen. Kooij took fifth place ahead of Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ).
How it unfolded
Following Opening Weekend at the end of February, the 46th edition of the Classic Brugge-De Panne (well, its fifth as a one-day Classic), marked the start of the spring Northern Classics 'proper'.
The 165-rider peloton at the start in Bruges would face 207.9 kilometres of more or less pan-flat roads en route to De Panne. A Classic without cobbles or hills, the riders would instead face the prospect of possible crosswinds on the way to the coast and on the three closing laps around De Panne.
A three-man jumped away from the peloton very early on in the stage during the quick start. Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal-Pauwels Sauzen-WB), and Jens Reynders (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) were the men in question, and they were immediately let go.
The break very quickly built a gap of two minutes as the sprinters' teams bluffed over who would take over the pacemaking. After around a half an hour of racing, they were seven minutes up the road before QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's Iljo Keisse relented and went to work at the front of the peloton.
Luckily for the peloton, and sadly for viewing fans, the possible wind never struck the race, with most of the afternoon passing without much incident. Instead, the riders could a clear sky, sunshine and temperatures of 17-18°C out on the road.
Inside the final 100 kilometres, that seven-minute gap had been brought back to a more manageable three minutes as QuickStep controlled the situation along with Bora-Hansgrohe and Alpecin-Fenix.
At 60km to go, the breakaway burst into life as the trio of riders approached the day's only intermediate sprint, with Reynders leaping from the rear of the group to cross the line first. The prize, brought by race sponsor Minerva, a lifetime supply of e-bikes.
The feed zone followed, with riders taking on sustenance ahead of a certain fast finish in De Panne, while the bell rung for the final lap of the race shortly afterwards as the riders passed the 44-kilometre to go mark.
There, the break's advantage was already down to 50 seconds, still with a long distance to go. The peloton would let the trio hang out front for a while yet, not ready to make the final catch until closer to the finish.
At 35km to go, Peyskens, sensing the end of the move was near, went solo at the head of the race, splitting up the breakaway as he sought a bit more TV time for his team. Reynders made it across as Battaglin faded back to the peloton, but a few kilometres later it was all over.
The peloton made the final catch at 31 kilometres to go, with Alpecin-Fenix and QuickStep-AlphaVinyl leading the way for their sprinters Tim Merlier and Mark Cavendish. Two kilometres later, a crash near the rear of the peloton held several riders up, with Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), Niki Terpstra (TotalEnergies), and Jelle Wallays (Cofidis) among those caught out before chasing back on.
As the pace and nerves ramped up on the way to the final, there was another crash as Movistar's Max Kanter and Johan Jacobs went down after a nasty collision with a race marshal.
Heading into the final 20 kilometres, Lotto Soudal (Arnaud De Lie) and Groupama-FDJ (for Arnaud Démare) moved up to wrest control at the front, though a number of other major sprint squads would flow to the front over the following kilometres, too.
BikeExchange-Jayco (for Dylan Groenewegen) led the way into the final 10 kilometres as the battle for position saw riders hopping onto bike paths and around marshals and road furniture in order to move up in the group.
At the rear of the peloton, riders were losing contact due to the high speeds at the front as the likes of Lotto Soudal, Bahrain Victorious and Cofidis also joined the battle for positions. Luckily, there were no major incidents on the run-in until the 1.5-kilometre mark.
There, exiting a corner in 10th position, Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) was left with nowhere to go on the outside by a Bingoal-Pauwels Sauces-WB rider. The German couldn't stay upright as he scraped the metal barrier and hit the deck hard, his race over. Just behind, Lotto Soudal's Arnaud De Lie somehow managed to stay upright with a superb piece of bike handling.
Into the final kilometre it was Alpecin-Fenix rider Jonas Rickaert driving the pace at the head of the peloton, peeling off before QuickStep-AlphaVinyl took it up with Jannik Steimle and Bert Van Lerberghe.
Once their job had been done, it was Kooij who took over to launch the final dash from the line a long way out. To his right, it was Merlier who sped through to take the win by a tiny margin on the line.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||4:45:41|
|2||Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) BikeExchange-Jayco|
|3||Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkea-Samsic|
|4||Maximilian Walscheid (Ger) Cofidis|
|5||Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|6||Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|7||Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis|
|8||Arnaud De Lie (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|9||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|10||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain Victorious|
|11||Stanislaw Aniolkowski (Pol) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB|
|12||Michael Mørkøv (Den) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|13||Max Kanter (Ger) Movistar Team|
|14||Timothy Dupont (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB|
|15||Lorrenzo Manzin (Fra) TotalEnergies|
|16||Rick Zabel (Ger) Israel-Premier Tech|
|17||Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|18||Luis Mas Bonet (Spa) Movistar Team|
|19||Søren Wærenskjold (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|20||Itamar Einhorn (Isr) Israel-Premier Tech|
|21||Biniam Girmay (Eri) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|22||Danny van Poppel (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|23||Luca Mozzato (Ita) B&B Hotels-KTM|
|24||Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|25||Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel-Premier Tech|
|26||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|27||Arne Marit (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|28||Mikkel Bjerg (Den) UAE Team Emirates|
|29||Gerben Thijssen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|30||Milan Fretin (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|31||Kenneth Van Rooy (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|32||Marijn van den Berg (Ned) EF Education-EasyPost|
|33||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) TotalEnergies|
|34||Niklas Märkl (Ger) Team DSM|
|35||Sam Welsford (Aus) Team DSM|
|36||Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Israel-Premier Tech|
|37||Jens Reynders (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|38||Jannik Steimle (Ger) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|39||Jonathan Milan (Ita) Bahrain Victorious|
|40||Ryan Mullen (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|41||Tom Scully (NZl) EF Education-EasyPost|
|42||Iñigo Elosegui Momeñe (Spa) Movistar Team|
|43||Davide Martinelli (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team|
|44||Sandy Dujardin (Fra) TotalEnergies|
|45||Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:13|
|46||Mathias Norsgaard (Den) Movistar Team|
|47||Pierre Barbier (Fra) B&B Hotels-KTM|
|48||Miles Scotson (Aus) Groupama-FDJ|
|49||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Jumbo-Visma|
|50||Filippo Fiorelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'||0:00:17|
|51||Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:18|
|52||Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|53||Timo Roosen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|54||Campbell Stewart (NZl) BikeExchange-Jayco|
|55||Stijn Steels (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|56||Erik Nordsaeter Resell (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|57||Markus Pajur (Est) Arkea-Samsic|
|58||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|59||Amaury Capiot (Bel) Arkea-Samsic|
|60||Bram Welten (Ned) Groupama-FDJ|
|61||Jonas Rutsch (Ger) EF Education-EasyPost|
|62||Felix Groß (Ger) Uae Team Emirates|
|63||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|64||Filip Maciejuk (Pol) Bahrain Victorious|
|65||Artyom Zakharov (Kaz) Astana Qazaqstan Team||0:00:28|
|66||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|67||Wesley Kreder (Ned) Cofidis|
|68||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|69||Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|70||Rüdiger Selig (Ger) Lotto Soudal|
|71||Rui Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:37|
|72||Guy Sagiv (Isr) Israel-Premier Tech|
|73||Quentin Jauregui (Fra) B&B Hotels-KTM|
|74||Sasha Weemaes (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|75||Johan Jacobs (Swi) Movistar Team|
|76||Fabio Felline (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team|
|77||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team DSM|
|78||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|79||Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Arkea-Samsic|
|80||Tom Bohli (Swi) Cofidis|
|81||Julius Johansen (Den) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|82||Brent Van Moer (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|83||Alex Kirsch (Lux) Trek-Segafredo||0:00:42|
|84||Manuele Boaro (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team||0:00:45|
|85||Enrico Zanoncello (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'||0:00:47|
|86||Michele Gazzoli (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team|
|87||Alberto Dainese (Ita) Team DSM|
|88||Florian Vermeersch (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:49|
|89||Scott Thwaites (GBr) Alpecin-Fenix|
|90||Luka Mezgec (Slo) BikeExchange-Jayco|
|91||Maurice Ballerstedt (Ger) Alpecin-Fenix|
|92||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|93||Otto Vergaerde (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|94||Taj Jones (Aus) Israel-Premier Tech||0:00:54|
|95||Jens Debusschere (Bel) B&B Hotels-KTM|
|96||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Arkea-Samsic|
|97||Christophe Noppe (Bel) Arkea-Samsic|
|98||Alex Edmondson (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco||0:01:04|
|99||Michael Gogl (Aut) Alpecin-Fenix||0:01:07|
|100||Karl Patrick Lauk (Est) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB||0:01:08|
|101||Laurenz Rex (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB|
|102||Fred Wright (GBr) Bahrain Victorious|
|103||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bahrain Victorious|
|104||Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) UAE Team Emirates|
|105||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) TotalEnergies|
|106||Jordi Warlop (Bel) B&B Hotels-KTM|
|107||Owain Doull (GBr) EF Education-EasyPost||0:01:10|
|108||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|109||Jules Hesters (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|110||Martin Urianstad (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|111||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Groupama-FDJ|
|112||Aimé De Gendt (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|113||Leonardo Basso (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team|
|114||Leon Heinschke (Ger) Team DSM|
|115||Kelland O’Brien (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco|
|116||Tom Wirtgen (Lux) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB|
|117||Sébastien Grignard (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:01:17|
|118||Alexander Konychev (Ita) BikeExchange-Jayco||0:01:29|
|119||Niki Terpstra (Ned) TotalEnergies|
|120||Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|121||Jon Aberasturi Izaga (Spa) Trek-Segafredo|
|122||Luca Colnaghi (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|123||Adrien Petit (Fra) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|124||Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis|
|125||Jonas Koch (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|126||Ben Healy (Irl) EF Education-EasyPost|
|127||Clément Davy (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|128||Tuur Dens (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|129||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) EF Education-EasyPost|
|130||Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|131||Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|132||Alessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|133||Kamil Gradek (Pol) Bahrain Victorious|
|134||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team|
|135||Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM|
|136||Ludovic Robeet (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB|
|137||Julien Vermote (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:01:50|
|138||Jakob Egholm (Den) Trek-Segafredo||0:02:03|
|139||Jos van Emden (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|140||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) EF Education-EasyPost||0:02:25|
|141||Oliviero Troia (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|142||Luke Durbridge (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco|
|143||Barnabás Peák (Hun) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|144||Florian Stork (Ger) Team DSM|
|145||Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB|
|146||Lars Saugstad (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|147||Nils Politt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:03:32|
|148||Jordi Meeus (Bel) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|149||Pascal Ackermann (Ger) UAE Team Emirates|
|150||Matthias Brändle (Aut) Israel-Premier Tech||0:04:03|
|151||Daan Hoole (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|152||Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Lotto Soudal||0:05:15|
|153||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) B&B Hotels-KTM|
|154||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'||0:05:55|
|DNF||Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) TotalEnergies|
|DNF||Jelle Wallays (Bel) Cofidis|
|DNF||Gonzalo Serrano Rodriguez (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Tim van Dijke (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|DNF||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Bahrain Victorious|
|DNS||Samuele Zoccarato (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'|
|DNS||Szymon Sajnok (Pol) Cofidis|
|DNS||Mikkel Honoré (Den) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team|
|DNS||William Levy (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|DNS||Julien Morice (Fra) B&B Hotels-KTM|
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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