Sam Bennett blasted clear of his rivals to take the Classic Brugges-De Panne 2021 from a bunch sprint.
The Irishman was kept out of trouble by his Deceuninck - Quick-Step team-mates throughout the 200km-long Belgian WorldTour race, as he made it into the final kilometre right at the head of the peloton.
Deceuninck utilised their classic full-strength lead-out train to set Bennett up for the sprint with 250 metres left to the line, as their rider fired his sprint and held off Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) to take victory.
The win is the first one-day WorldTour victory of Bennett's career - a goal he recently said he dreamed of achieving.
How it happened
The 2021 of the Classic Brugge-De Panne, previously known as the Three Days of De Panne, was raced over a pan-flat 203.9km course, starting in the idyllic city of Brugge and finishing on a technical circuit in De Panne near the French border.
While the race didn’t taken on any of Belgium’s famed cobbled climbs, the course was a winding and challenging route, starting with a 113km run down to De Panne, before riders took on three laps of a 45km finishing circuit around the finish town.
In the opening 20km of the stage, a six-rider breakaway fired off the front to set the pace in the early stages, with the likes of Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-Citroën) and Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal) leading the charge.
That group pulled out a four-minute advantage on the peloton behind, which held for the opening 75km with Deceuninck - Quick-Step controlling the chase in the peloton.
The breakaway’s advantage began to fall with 100km left to race and they were quickly swept up with around 80km to the line, freeing up riders in the peloton for some opportunistic attacks.
Movistar’s Sebadrian Mora was the first rider to break clear of the peloton, as he pulled out a 20-second advantage and held on through the winding course, but was eventually caught with one local lap left to race.
Qhubeka-Assos began working at the front of the bunch, as Davide Martinelli (Astana) and Lluis Mas (Movistar) were next to attack from the bunch, but they were reeled back with 20km to the line.
Then it was Brent Van Moer from Lotto-Soudal’s turn to spring clear of the peloton, as the Belgian went solo and pulled out a 20-second advantage, but he was caught with a little over 10km to race.
The narrow roads leading to the finish slowed down the peloton as Arkéa-Samsic, Ag2r and UAE Team Emirates took up position at the front of the bunch.
As the race entered the wide highways once again, Team DSM put numbers at the front of the bunch for Cees Bol, before Deceuninck finally showed their presence at the head of the race with 3km left to go.
Tight 90-degree turns and road furniture in the final 2km spike tensions in the bunch as Tosh Van Der Sande tried an opportunistic attack solo, but Deceuninck refused to let the Lotto-Soudal rider escape.
Into the final kilometre with a sharp left-hand turn, Deceuninck dominated the front of the bunch, with Ackermann close on the wheel.
As the finish line approached Ackermann tried to sneak past Bennett against the right-hand barrier but couldn’t find a way through, as Philipsen was the first to launch his full sprint.
But Bennett, alert to the headwind facing the riders, delayed his effort before setting off in pursuit of Philipsen, comfortably breaking past the Belgian and taking victory by more than a bike length ahead of the rest.
Classic Brugge-De Panne, Brugge-DePan to (203.9km)
1. Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 4-27-40
2. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
3. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Qhubeka-Assos
5. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles
6. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
7. Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM
8. Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
9. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
10. Stanisław Aniołkowski (Pol) Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles, all at same time
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