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peloton / Trek / Yuzuru Sunada
Trek Factory Racing’s Danny van Poppel sprinted to victory in the first road stage of Three Days of West-Flanders, beating out Danilo Napolitano (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Scott Thwaites (NetApp-Endura) for his first professional win.
It was an aggressive race as promised, but in the final kilometers everything was back together in one large group as the peloton headed towards a bunch finish for the 183-kilometer race that began in Brugge and finished in Harelbeke.
“I am very happy! There was a corner around 500m to go, and just after this the team came by me and went full gas,” explained Danny van Poppel shortly after the race had finished. “It was perfect for me, I was sitting in Danilo Napolitano’s wheel and he started his sprint early, and I was able to come around him at the end. I have had a lot of podiums before this, but this is my first win.
“I did not feel super today at the start, but then started to feel better and better as the race went along. And for a sprinter at the end, it does not matter – when I see the finish line coming, and with the team helping me like they did at the end, that made it easy for me. I want to really thank the team today, because without them I would not have won.”
The race began with a 4-man breakaway, escaping in the early kilometers and gaining upwards of five minutes before the pace increased from behind and the gap began to slowly fall. The undulating parcours eventually split the leading quartet in half, and also the chasing peloton behind. With 60-kilometers remaining the two riders forged ahead, 25 seconds in hand over the first peloton, and a minute on the second. Eventually the peloton regrouped, and the duo out front were also brought back, which only initiated two more riders to give it a go.
Stig Broeckx (Lotto- Belisol) and Alphonse Vermote (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) gained 25 seconds before Broeckx decided to set off alone leaving Vermote to be gobbled up by a hard-chasing peloton. The peloton finally snagged Broeckx back with four kilometers remaining, and the group sprint unfolded perfectly for Trek Factory Racing to snag its fourth win of the year.
Boy van Poppel, the key leadout man for Danny was elated for his younger brother.
“I’m really happy for Danny. We’ve been training really hard in the last weeks, so this is nice. He was feeling really good. On the Kwaremont he was not in trouble at all, so I knew it could be good. I protected him all day, keeping him out of the wind and all. The final lap was chaotic. We lost each other at some point, but we found each other quickly again. Jasper [Stuyven] also pulled really hard in the last kilometers, so really it was a great team effort all around.”