Live coverage of stage 3 of the Eneco Tour, 186 kilometres from Blankenberge to Ardooie.
104km remaining from 186km
As we pick up the action with a little over 100 kilometres still to race, a five-man break has a lead of 6:25 over the peloton. Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida), Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling), Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Jesper Asselman (Roompot-Oranje Peloton) and Mark McNally (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) forged clear early on and the peloton is happy to leave the quintet to it for the time being.
The best-placed man in this move is Elmiger, who started the day 23 seconds down on race leader Rohan Dennis (BMC). Dennis impressed in winning yesterday's short time trial but with a team time trial to come on Friday and some rugged terrain on the race's final weekend, he still has rivals aplenty for the overall honours.
The general classification picture was as follows ahead of today's stage:
1 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team 4:24:48
2 Jos van Emden (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 0:00:05
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team 0:00:13
4 Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team 0:00:14
5 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 0:00:15
6 Matthias Brändle (Aut) IAM Cycling
7 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:16
8 Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
9 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:17
10 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team 0:00:18
11 Jon Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:19
12 Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Cannondale-Drapac
13 Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:20
14 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin
15 Tom Bohli (Swi) BMC Racing Team
93km remaining from 186km
After two days in the Netherlands, today is the Eneco Tour's first stage in Belgium, which brings the peloton from the North Sea coast at Blankenberge inland to Ardooie, not far from Roeselaere, start town of Dwars door Vlaanderen and site of the Belgian national cycling museum.
90km remaining from 186km
It would be a surprise if today's leg finished in anything other than a bunch sprint, particularly with so many fast men in this race eager to test their legs ahead of next month's sprinter-friendly World Championships in Doha. Today's Golden Kilometre - the trio of successive intermediate sprints, each with a 3-second bonus for the winner - takes place with 24 kilometres to go. BMC will be more than happy to allow these escapees linger out in front until then, though the sprinters' teams may already be on the case. For now, however, there's a general air of detente in the peloton, and our five leaders remain 6:25 in front.
86km remaining from 186km
After 100 kilometres of racing, Arashiro, Steels, Asselman, Elmiger and McNally's lead has dropped slight to 6 minutes.
Arashiro's transfer to Bahrain Merida for 2017 was confirmed earlier this week, and it seems that he will be joined on Vincenzo Nibali's new team by Ion Izagirre, who is ready to break his contract with Movistar to make the switch. Igor Anton is also set to move to Bahrain Merida. Dan Benson has the story here.
70km remaining from 186km
There has been a decided injection of urgency in the peloton over the past 20 kilometres, right in time for the start of live television pictures. The break's lead drops to 3:10 as BMC find some allies from the sprinters' teams to ride on the front of the bunch.
LottoNL-Jumbo are among the teams forcing the issue at the head of the peloton, with stage 1 winner Dylan Groenewegen in mind. The Dutch champion produced a fine sprint to beat Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and a host of other top sprinters on Monday.
63km remaining from 186km
Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels is the man Etixx-QuickStep have delegated to contribute to the early, collective chase effort at the head of the peloton. Marcel Kittel is among the contenders for the win today and is, of course, vying with Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) for leadership of the German team at the World Championships next month.
59km remaining from 186km
Jungels leads the bunch over a cobbled section near Gits. BMC, Cofidis and LottoNL-Jumbo are the other squads currently contributing to the chase effort in the peloton, and the gap to the break stands at 2:30.
The Greipel-Kittel duel is one of the most compelling subplots of this Eneco Tour, even if each man fell well short in Monday's bunch sprint. Greipel has voiced his frustration at the German cycling federation's delay in deciding on its leader for the Worlds. "This is just a very awkward situation for both of us," Greipel said. The national coach is Etixx-QuickStep's Jan Schaffrath and, mindful that he has a dog in this particular fight, he has reported conceded the decision-making process to Cannondale-Drapac DS Andreas Klier and a four-man German federation panel in order to avoid a conflict of interests.
50km remaining from 186km
Into the final 50 kilometres for the escapees, whose lead has stretched out slightly again to 2:50 as the pace slackens in the peloton. The situation is under control and the sprinters' teams won't want to peg back the break too soon.
BMC have been well-placed near the front for much of the day, but have found willing allies in the shape of the sprinters' teams to bear the brunt of the pace-setting. “It’s going to put pressure on the team to perform every day but we’re here to win with either myself or Greg Van Averamaet," Dennis said of taking the overall lead yesterday. "The team time trial will be another big day for GC, so it’s just about making sure we all stay up front and don’t lose time each day.”
39km remaining from 186km
Lotto Soudal have joined the pace-setting effort at the head of the bunch as the race reaches the finishing circuit. The break's lead drops again to 2:20.
35km remaining from 186km
Tinkoff and Etixx-QuickStep are among the teams moving up in the peloton, as they look to marshal their fast men Sagan and Kittel into position ahead of the finale.
34km remaining from 186km
Stijn Steels wins the Primus intermediate sprint as the break's lead drops inside the two-minute mark. The so-called Golden Kilometre and its three bonus sprints are just under 10 kilometres away.
31km remaining from 186km
The escapees approach the finish line in Ardooie for the first time. This is a technical finale, and though the Eneco Tour is a regular visitor here, the fast men will be glad of a couple of sighters of the narrow roads in the final few kilometres before the inevitable mass sprint.
Trek-Segafredo and Cannondale-Drapac lead the bunch into Ardooie for the first time. The intensity is rising steadily, and the break's lead is down to just 1:20.
29km remaining from 186km
The five escapees should, however, survive out in front until the Golden Kilometre and hoover up all of the bonus seconds there.
27km remaining from 186km
Trek-Segafredo put in a shift on the front of the bunch but then swing over. No one team wants to take up the reins just yet, and the break remains 1:20 clear.
25km remaining from 186km
Elmiger leads Arashiro and Steels through the first two bonus sprints in the Golden Kilometre, with no opposition from the rest.
Elmiger leads Asselman and McNally through the third sprint to pick up the maximum 9 seconds, seemingly with the blessing of his breakaway companions. That bonus will move Elmiger up to fourth overall this evening, assuming he finishes in the main peloton if and when this break is swept up.
In the main peloton, a delegation from Team Sky looks to shepherd Danny van Poppel into position. Six days on from the Fancy Bears hacking group's revelation regarding Bradley Wiggins' use of intramuscular corticosteroid injections with a TUE in 2011, 2012 and 2013, meanwhile, Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford has - remarkably for a team that so champions the concept of transparency - yet to speak on the matter.
20km remaining from 186km
The break's lead stretches out again to 1:45 and LottoNL-Jumbo hit the front in a bid to shave a few seconds off that advantage.
19km remaining from 186km
Elmiger, Arashiro, Asselman, Steels and McNally stick resolutely to their task out in front. The fact that they didn't contest those Golden Kilometre sprints also means that they haven't needlessly thrown away energy in search of bonus seconds and so they remain a pretty cohesive unit.
17km remaining from 186km
A mechanical problem for Stefan Kung (BMC) who is forced to stop and change his bike. Tinkoff and Kung's BMC team hold the reins at the head of the peloton. 1:40 the gap.
15km remaining from 186km
Arashiro leads the break through Ardooie for the second time. They take the bell for the final lap of the finishing circuit with a lead of 1:31 over the peloton.
Tinkoff, BMC, Cannondale-Drapac and Etixx-QuickStep have all begun to mass on the front. As the bunch takes the bell, the pace is beginning to ratchet up in earnest.
14km remaining from 186km
Manuel Quinziato (BMC) puts in a long, long turn at the head of the bunch, but the escapees are still hanging tough. The gap is 1:23.
Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) is the next man to come through and his searing effort should take a chunk out of the break's lead.
12km remaining from 186km
The gap drops to 1:12 thanks in no small part to Martin and BMC's efforts at the head of a bunch that has been strung out into one long line.
11km remaining from 186km
Lotto Soudal join the cavalry at the head of the peloton and the gap drops below one minute for the first time.
10km remaining from 186km
The race is on some exposed, wide roads for the time being, and this is where the balance ought to tip in the favour of the peloton. Elmiger et al continue undeterred, 57 seconds up the road.
9km remaining from 186km
Alexander Kristoff's Katusha guard mass at the front of the bunch, but the gap remains stuck at 57 seconds...
8km remaining from 186km
For all the scramble for position in the bunch, the intensity at the very front has come in fits and bursts, and the gap remains steady at 55 seconds. The escapees are daring to dream now...
7km remaining from 186km
Lotto Soudal commit to the chase, but their attempts to drum up some allies seem to be coming to naught.
6km remaining from 186km
Elmiger puts in generous turns on the front of the break, with the overall lead in mind.
6km remaining from 186km
The gap drops to inside 50 seconds as Tony Martin takes over at the head of the bunch again, but the five escapees are still collaborating well.
5km remaining from 186km
The discord among the sprinters' teams is playing right into the break's hands here. The gap is still 43 seconds as Giant-Alpecin become the latest team to hit the front - but will they commit to the effort?
4km remaining from 186km
Now it's Tyler Farrar at the head of the bunch for Dimension Data, but the break is still 38 seconds clear...
3km remaining from 186km
A Team Sky delegation is the next squad to lead the peloton, but there is still no cohesion to the bunch's efforts. 30 seconds the gap.
3km remaining from 186km
28 seconds for the leading quintet as they enter the final three kilometres.
2km remaining from 186km
The bunch is within sight of the break on the last long straight but the gap is still 25 seconds.
2km remaining from 186km
Elmiger leads the break into the final 2 kilometres, 19 seconds clear of the bunch.
1km remaining from 186km
The five escapees hit the technical roads on the outskirts of Ardooie. These twists and turns will play to their advantage.
1km remaining from 186km
Arashiro leads the break into the final kilometre and then the pace drops...
This hesitation could be fatal for the break. They can't afford to watch one another as the bunch closes in...
The bunch is upon the break just as they enter the finishing straight...
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) wins stage 3 of the Eneco Tour.
Danny van Poppel (Sky) took second ahead of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
Sagan came through very, very late in that sprint, charging through a gap that scarcely existed to come past the remnants of the break and then Bouhanni and Van Poppel.
That's quite a statement of intent from Sagan ahead of the World Championships in Qatar, though the escapees will harbour regrets about their hesitation in the final kilometre, not least McNally, who had the legs to hold on for fifth place.
Groenewegen took fourth place incidentally, but it was a disappointing outing once more for Greipel and Kittel, who appeared to get themselves boxed in during that fraught finishing sprint. Sagan, by contrast, somehow managed to poke out a gap and slip through it. The Slovak is watching the images on a television screen behind the podium. Not even Sagan, it seems, fully understands how he managed to pull that win out of the bag.
There were shades of Dan McLay's obstacle-course sprint win at GP Denain about Sagan's victory. 150 metres from home, he seemed to be hemmed in, but then the seas parted slightly and Sagan navigated a safe course to the finish.
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team 04:10:36
2 Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Team Sky
3 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
4 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
5 Mark McNally (GBr) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
6 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
7 Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling
8 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step
9 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
10 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
General classification after stage 3:
1 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team 08:35:24
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team 00:00:03
3 Jos Van Emden (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 00:00:05
4 Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team 00:00:14
5 Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling
6 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 00:00:15
7 Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling
8 Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 00:00:16
9 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team
10 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 00:00:17
Thanks for joining our live coverage from the Eneco Tour this afternoon. We'll be back with more tomorrow, and in the meantime, you can find a full report, results and pictures here.
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