The sprinters were denied for a third consecutive stage at the BinckBank Tour, as Magnus Cort (Astana) triumphed from a four-man break.
Cort was comfortably the most accomplished rider of the escapees, and managed to get the better of Julius van den Berg (EF Education First-Drapac) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale) despite having to lead-out the sprint.
After crashing on the first stage, Cort had lost enough time to be given leeway to attack unmarked, and made the most of that freedom by getting into the break.
Jonas Rickaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) had also been a part of the breakaway, but suffered the great misfortune of a mechanical just 5km from the line, denying him the chance to contest for the stage win.
The sprinters’ teams will again be kicking themselves for having again allowed the break to succeed, despite a parcours that was again bunch-sprint friendly.
How it happened
Cort, Van den Berg and Rickaert broke clear at the start of the stage, with Gougeard joining them shortly after.
Early in the day, the gap between them and the peloton fluctuated from as low as two minutes to as high as nearly five minutes.
Rickaert claimed maximum points at the first intermediate sprint, ahead of Cort and Van den Berg.
With 42km to go there was a big crash towards the front of the bunch, with Sky’s Owain Doull among the fallers.
Thankfully everyone involved was OK and managed to continue racing. Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) was one rider to get held up behind the incident, and required most of his team-mates to pace him back up to the peloton.
As the break crossed the finish line for the first of three laps of the finishing circuit, they held a lead of 2-41 with 31km of racing left.
Following two consecutive stages in which the peloton was defeated by a breakaway, there was a palpable sense of nervousness in the bunch that lightning was set to strike for a third time.
The quartet were committed solely to riding together, as evidenced by the fact that the day’s second intermediate sprint was not contested. Back in the peloton, Dries de Bondt (Verandas Willems-Crelan) sprinted for fifth place to become the new leader in the Primus Combativity Classification.
Despite work from the likes of Mitchelton-Scott, LottoNL-Jumbo and Bora-Hansgrohe the gap only decreased slowly, and was still a healthy 2-16 at the start of the second lap.
There was no let up to the chase in the next lap, yet the gap remained as high as 1-48 at the bell with 11km left to ride.
Big rouleurs such as Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo) and Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin) took turns at the front, yet still the gap remained stubborn, and when the latter swung off with 1-30 still to close down, it appeared the chase was doomed.
The peloton then started to play games with each other rather than close down the gap, with Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) breaking clear with 5km to go.
Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) also put in digs, but by the finish line everything had come back together, with Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) leading them home 33 seconds after the break.
The GC race should begin in earnest tomorrow with a hilly stage featuring a total of 25 climbs.
BinckBank Tour 2018, stage five: Sint-Pieters-Leeuw to Lanaken (204.4km)
1 Magnus Cort (Den) Astana Pro Team, in 4-39-50
2 Julius van den Berg (Ned) EF-Education First Drapac
3 Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
4 Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, at 29s
5 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 33s
6 Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Florian Senechal (Fra) Quick-Step Floors
8 Tom Devriendt (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
9 Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
10 Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida , all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1 Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida
2 Sean De Bie (Bel) Veranda’s Willems Crelan at 3s
3 Stefan Küng (Sui) BMC Racing Team at 22s
4 Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic at 28s
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb at 31s
6 Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij at 32s
7 Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 36s
8 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb at 37s
9 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors at 41s
10 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Katusha-Alpecin at same time