Luke Rowe fifth in Three Days of De Panne stage one after late puncture forces the Welshman to drop out of the lead group

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne in Belgium on Tuesday on his return to racing after missing Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem with illness.

Kristoff, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Lieuwe Westra (Astana) and Luke Rowe (Sky) formed the winning move into the final 30km of the hilly stage from De Panne to Zottegem.

Disaster struck for Rowe before the final ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen as he punctured and had to accept a rear wheel from neutral service. After a slow wheel change, Rowe was left trying to catch up.

Luke Rowe in an escape on stage one of the 2016 3 Days of DePanne

Luke Rowe dropped out of the lead group after suffering from a puncture

Rowe eased off to let lone chaser Mads Pedersen (Stölting Service Group) join him in the pursuit, but the two could not make the junction to the trio up front.

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At times, the lead group were disorganised with Kristoff leaving the two Astana riders to do the work but there appeared to be some disagreement between Lutsenko and Westra, neither of whom used their numerical advantage to attack Kristoff.

The three were still together and with a minute in hand over the chase group as they passed under the 1km-to-go marker.

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Kristoff then led the Astana duo into the finish straight, opening up a sprint that went unchallenged to take the stage and race lead. Lutsenko placed second, with Westra in third. Rowe hung on for fifth place.

Alexander Kristoff on stage one of the 2016 3 Days of DePanne

Alexander Kristoff leads the two Astana riders

The Three Days of De Panne continues on Wednesday with stage two, a 211km route from Zottegem to Koksijde featuring five climbs in the central section before flattening out towards the finish circuit. The race concludes on Thursday with two stages, a 112km road stage and a 14.2km individual time trial.

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Results

Three Days of De Panne 2016, stage one: De Panne to Zottegem, 198km
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
2. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana
3. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana at same time
4. Mads Pedersen (Den) Stölting Service Group at 29 secs
5. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky at same time
6. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto-Soudal at 36 secs
7. Manuel Belletti (Ita) Southeast-Venezuela
8. Juraj Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff
9. Sean De Bie (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
10. Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha at same time


Watch: Alexander Kristoff- Show Us Your Scars


General classification after stage one
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
2. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana at 1 sec
3. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana at 6 secs
4. Mads Pedersen (Den) Stölting Service Group at 29 secs
5. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky at 29 secs
6. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx-QuickStep at 44 secs
7. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto-Soudal at 46 secs
8. Manuel Belletti (Ita) Southeast-Venezuela at 26 secs
9. Juraj Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff at 46 secs
10. Sean De Bie (Bel) Lotto-Soudal at 46 secs