Belgian Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) won stage four of the 2017 BinckBank Tour on Thursday, with Stefan Küng (BMC Racing) retaining the overall race lead.
Theuns went one better than the previous day’s stage when he was pipped on the line by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). Points leader Sagan managed fourth, with Marko Kump (UAE Team Emirates) and Tim Merlier (Vérandas Willems-Crelan) placing second and third.
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Swiss rider Küng maintained his four-second lead over Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the general classification with three stages to go. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) is third at five seconds, with Sagan fourth, also at five seconds.
The opening 40km of the day went without a successful escape group, but then we were treated to the rare sight of one of the top sprinters attacking to form a break.
André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) has, by his own admission, had a disappointing past couple of months but decided to show himself on stage four in the escape. He was joined by Pim Ligthart (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij) and Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) to form a strong trio.
The 160.7km route consisted of two long loops and two short loops, each going through Lanaken.
There was no let-up in the pace on another murky, damp day, and the break only managed to gain a couple of minutes before slowly being reeled back in with 26km to go to bring the peloton back together.
Team Sky seemed to be particularly interested in keeping the pace high at the front of the peloton, with Ian Stannard‘s effort stringing out the bunch into the final 20km. Several riders found the pace too much, and dropped out of the bunch.
After Stannard had done his damage, Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe and Küng’s BMC teams moved up to the front to keep control of things.
The narrow roads and tight bends meant positioning was key, particularly in keeping out of the way of any crashes. Another factor was the number of punctures experienced by riders, with almost a constant flow dropping back to get new wheels from the team car.
Alex Dowsett (Movistar) and Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) broke the lull with an attack at 13km to go. The pair both adopted low time trial positions and swiftly opened up a gap as the chase faltered behind them – no team seemed to want to burn out riders in the pursuit.
Watch: Dr Hutch meets Alex Dowsett
Eventually, Trek-Segafredo and Quick-Step Floors, then Bora put riders at the front of the peloton as Dowsett and Smith’s gap opened to 22 seconds with 8.5km to go. However, the duo faded and were caught with 4km to go.
A further series of almost right-angle corners spread out the peloton, and Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) rode to the front and attacked with 3km to go, absolutely burying himself to get away. A ragged peloton once again seemed disorganised in the chase, and Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) was one of those to drop off the back.
A messy sprint saw Lampaert agonisingly caught in the final 100 metres with Theuns sprinting hard from the front to claim the victory on the slight rise to the line.
Theuns’s win means that he moves up to tenth overall, 17 seconds adrift of race leader Küng.
Three remaining stages and three tough days now face the riders, with a selection of stages that resemble mini spring classics. Friday’s stage starts and finishes in Sittard-Geleen and packs in 18 major climbs into its 167.3 kilometres, which takes in part of the Amstel Gold Race route.
BinckBank Tour 2017 stage four: Lanaken to Lanaken, 160.7km
1. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, in 3-24-23
2. Marko Kump (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
3. Tim Merlier (Bel) Vérandas Willems-Crelan
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
6. Danny van Poppel (Ned) Team Sky
7. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott
8. Marc Sarreau (Fra) FDJ
9. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Seunweb
10. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Cannondale-Drapac, all same time
General classification after stage four
1. Stefan Küng (Sui) BMC Racing, in 11-39-31
2. Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4 secs
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 5 secs
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5 secs
5. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb, at 8 secs
6. Lars Boom (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 10 secs
7. Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at 12 secs
8. Matthias Brändle (Sui) Trek-Segafredo, at 14 secs
9. Miles Scotson (Aus) BMC Racing, at 15 secs
10. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, at 17 secs