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Eneco Tour stage 3 & 4: Gilbert runs for the hills, Sergent beats the clock

In what is proving to be a closely fought race of seconds, Taylor Phinney conceded the overall lead to Philippe Gilbert after the Belgian champion proved uncatchable on a hilly finish in the Ardennes. In turn, Gilbert then produced an excellent ride against the clock in damp conditions to leave himself within striking distance of new race leader Edvald Boasson Hagen after today’s individual time trial. The Norwegian now holds a slender 12-second advantage heading into the weekend’s final two stages, which includes a concluding 22-climb route on Sunday where Gilbert is sure to attack again in pursuit of overall victory.

Stage 3: Heers to Andenne, 191.2km

It came as little surprise when Philippe Gilbert attacked on the penultimate climb of a stage ideally suited to his strengths. And it was equally predictable when he arrived at the finish in Andenne eight seconds ahead of a select group of favourites. In claiming Omega Pharma-Lottos’s third victory in a row (after André Greipel had won stages one and two), he also relieved BMC’s Taylor Phinney of the overall race lead.

The day’s 191km route into the Ardennes featured several of the climbs used in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day classics, including the fearsome Mur de Huy. However, it was situated near the midway point and therefore relatively unimportant in terms of deciding the day’s winner. More critical to the result were La Flîme and the Côte des Aguesses, both of whose summits would have to be tackled inside the final 6km of the race.

The ever-present Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) was once again in the day’s breakaway, joined by Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad), Stefan Van Dijk (Verandas Willems-Accent) and Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano), with the four riders building a lead of close to ten minutes at one stage. However, their advantage soon tumbled as BMC and Omega Pharma upped the pace in the peloton – a healthy gap of six minutes with 75km to go was halved shortly after the 55km mark and was down to a single minute with 33km to go. Fouchard and Rasmussen soon sat up and allowed themselves to be absorbed back into the bunch, while Dutchmen Van Dijk and Veelers held on until 17km to go.

Omega Pharma kept the pack together on the following climb of the Côte de Saint-Roch, with Edvald Boasson Hagen beating Gilbert to claim the maximum three-second bonus at the intermediate sprint point. In the subsequent lull, Euskaltl-Euskadi’s Gorka Izaguirre jumped clear but was easily reeled back in at the 10km banner just before the penultimate climb of La Flîme.

Garmin-Cervélo’s Murilo Fischer – always easy to pick out in the green and gold colours of the Brazilian champion – set the initial tempo on the climb. However, Gilbert’s teammate Jelle Vanendert, who won on Plateau de Beille at the Tour de France last month, soon took over, tapping out a stinging pace which soon exploded the peloton and reduced the lead group to ten riders as Phinney dropped away.

Everyone knew what was coming next and sure enough with 7km remaining – about 1km from the summit – Gilbert kicked hard and accelerated away from the other favourites as if they were standing still. As David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) later tweeted:

I knew he was going to go. He even told me when and where. I still couldn’t do anything when he did.

Gilbert maintained his early season dominance in the Ardennes

Millar tried to lead the chase but Gilbert was off down the road, flying over the summit and increasing his lead to 20 seconds before his pursuers began to organise themselves more cohesively. Nonetheless, the Belgian champion still had an eight-second advantage as he started the final climb of the Côte des Aguesses, which he was able to maintain all the way to the finish to claim his 15th win of the year and take over the overall lead, courtesy of the ten-second time bonus for winning the stage.

Boasson Hagen finished in the group of 16 eight seconds back to move into second overall, just five seconds behind the new race leader. Millar was right behind him, moving up to third at 13 seconds. Phinney crossed the line in a larger bunch a further 29 seconds later.

Gilbert was pleased to have won a stage and taken the overall lead, although he expected to lose it in Friday’s individual time trial:

It’s super to win a stage of the Eneco Tour. It’s even better to take the overall lead, even if I do not expect to stay in white after the time trial on Friday.

I expect to lose two to three seconds per kilometre. It will be very difficult. For me, David Millar and Edvald Boasson Hagen are the two super-favourites. I will do my best to try to limit the damage.

Stage 3 result:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:54:53

2. Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) +0:08

3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) same time

4. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) s/t

5. Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) s/t

Stage 4: Roermond, 14.7km individual time trial

Having held the lead for much of Monday’s prologue before eventually finishing seventh, RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent came out on top after a challenging 14.7km individual time trial in Roermond which was made doubly difficult by sporadically rainy conditions. As expected Edvald Boasson Hagen assumed the overall lead, but Philippe Gilbert rode well to limit his losses to set up an exciting final two days.

The route for this short time trial was particularly technical, featuring several narrow twists and turns, roundabouts and short cobbled sections. Rain showers which fell in the middle and late in the stage left several corners particularly damp, with considerable variation in conditions at different locations and times. Vacansoleil’s Jens Mouris, who had crashed heavily during the previous day’s stage, set the early lead time of 18:25. This stood for a considerable spell until HTC-Highroad’s Alex Rasumssen (fourth in the prologue) clocked 18:09. But the Dane’s benchmark held for only a few minutes until Sergent blitzed the course, recording 17:55 to become the only man to dip under 18 minutes.

Sergent stormed to his second win of 2011

Gilbert’s Omega Pharma teammate Jurgen Roelandts slotted into third with 18:15, but that was as close as anyone would get to Sergent’s time as rain started to fall again. Prologue winner Taylor Phinney, hampered by wetter conditions than the later runners, was eighth fastest in 18:25.

Third-last man on the road David Millar, who started the day just 14 seconds off the lead and was harbouring hopes of a big performance to catapult him into overall contention, could only manage 18:37 in the difficult-to-read conditions. He later admitted he had been too slow through the corners to set a really challenging time.

That left only the final two. Boasson Hagen attacked the course hard but without taking undue risks on the damper corners, finishing one position and two seconds behind Phinney with a time of 18:27. And finally Gilbert, equally powerful but less smooth, rode one of his best time trials to limit his deficit to Boasson Hagen to just 17 seconds. He lost the overall lead, but at 12 seconds behind – with a ten-second bonus for a stage win – he will rate his chances of retaking the lead and claiming overall victory on Sunday.

Stage winner Sergent had hoped for a high finish, but was pleasantly surprised with his victory:

I did not expect this at all. After my seventh place in the opening prologue, my confidence was up and I was hoping for a top five today. But my bad luck of yesterday became my good luck today. I only had 2km on wet roads.

Boasson Hagen said that he had highlighted this stage as his time to take the overall lead:

I had planned to take the overall jersey today. I was feeling quite good, but it was hard in the wet to go as fast as someone else did; but I managed to take the jersey, and that was the main goal, so I’m really happy with that.

However, he recognised that he would face a tough battle to hold Gilbert at bay, particularly on Sunday’s tough rolling stage:

12 seconds lead on Gilbert with two stages to go – I don’t know if it will be enough. But I’ll do all I can to win this Eneco Tour.

Tomorrow starts and finishes in Genk, with only two relatively mild climbs towards the end which are unlikely to see significant time gaps. However, Sunday’s concluding stage features 22 climbs with three short climbs in the final 15km which should provide the springboard for one final all-out attack by Gilbert to try to seize the overall win.

Stage 4 result:

1. Jesse Sergent (RadioShack) 17:55

2. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) +0:14

3. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:20

4. Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) +0:27

5. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +0:27

General classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 13:49:06

2. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:12

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:18

4. Taylor Phinney (BMC) +0:27

5. Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) +0:47

Points classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 92 pts

2. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 70

3. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 60

4. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) 49

5. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 47

Link: Official website

Eneco Tour recaps

Prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Stage 1 & 2: Greipel doubles up but Phinney retains overall lead

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

One Response to Eneco Tour stage 3 & 4: Gilbert runs for the hills, Sergent beats the clock

  1. Pingback: Eneco Tour stage 5 & 6: Boasson Hagen wins from the front « The armchair sports fan

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