Tim Merlier managed to hold off former world champion Mads Pedersen to take victory at the 2021 Bredene Koksijde Classic.
Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) was in the second group for much of the race before the two groups of 13 and 18 riders came together in the last 10 kilometres.
The former Belgian champion launched his sprint with about 250 metres to go, then stopped to look around before kicking again. Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) could not get by.
The race started in the town of Bredene and made its way to the climbs made famous in the Gent-Wevelgem race, including the Kemmelberg cobbled climb before going back north to Koksijde to the finish after 199.9km.
It was the Kemmelberg where the main selection was made with Qhubeka-Assos leading the front group dragging the likes of Max Walscheid, Lasse Norman Hansen and Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg.
Other names who made it were the Trek-Segafredo duo of Pedersen and Alex Kirsch, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Nils Politt and Lukas Pöstlberger, as well as Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Sénéchal in the group of 13 riders.
In the second group of 18 riders there were some more pre-race favourites with Merlier, Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) and former winner of the race and multiple podium sitter Kristoffer Halvorsen (Uno-X Pro Cycling). That group were kept at around 35 to 45 seconds back.
The gap from the leaders back to the peloton, which had Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) in it, was at around 2-30 with 50km to go and it didn’t really close.
With around 30km to go the lead group missed a corner and had to turn around, meaning the gap dropped to the chasers to around 15 seconds.
This meant that attacks started coming in with Politt kicking it off along with Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Fenix) and Sénéchal following. That was pulled back so Pöstlberger went on the attack solo, meaning Kirsch had to start working for Pedersen along with Qhubeka-Assos.
The two groups behind Pöstlberger came together with 10km to go and began to drag Pöstlberger back who looked like he was completely drained on the bike.
But the pace was not kept in the chase and Pöstlberger was holding onto about 12 seconds. Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Qhubeka-Assos went back to the front to finally close to Austrian with 1.5km to go.
Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix) brought Merlier up into the final corner. Merlier kicked and was uncatchable with Pedersen and Sénéchal holding on for the podium slots.
Bredene Koksijde Classic (199.9km)
1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, in 4-12-43
2. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
3. Florian Sénéchal (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
4. Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation
5. Eduard Grosu (Rom) Team Delko
6. Stanisław Aniołkowski (Pol) Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles
7. Max Walscheid (Ger) Team Qhubeka-Assos
8. Bram Welten (Ned) Team Arkéa-Samsic
9. Nils Politt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Cyril Lemoine (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept, all at same time