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Tim Merlier won the bunch sprint of stage four of the Benelux Tour 2021, just edging out former world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) in Ardooie.
The Alpecin-Fenix sprinter left it late to surge past the likes of Danny Van Poppel and Fernando Gaviria to take his second stage victory of this race, having won on the opening day.
Van Poppel picked up third, ahead of Peter Sagan in fourth, while Christophe Laport rounded out the top five.
Stefan Bissegger saw his lead over Kasper Asgreen reduced after the Dane picked up valuable seconds during the golden kilometres towards the end of the stage.
How it happened
From the gun three riders set off up the road for the day, they were BikeExchange’s Sam Bewley, and the Belgian duo of Arjen Ivyns (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) and Thomas Sprengers (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise).
Sprengers led Bewley over the early intermediate sprint at Bellem, before 45km in Remco Evenepoel was involved in a crash.
With 60km remaining, at the next intermediate sprint at Ardooie, the finish location for today’s stage, Sprengers led Ivyns over the line this time.
Not long after there was a crash for Movistar’s Albert Torres, not looking good, lying on his back in the middle of the road, eventually abandoning the race.
As the trio up front were caught, another BikeExchange rider, Barnabas Peak, unhitched himself off the front of the bunch, another Bingoal rider, Laurenz Rex, also following, as they tried to recreate the day’s earlier move.
This duo was soon also brought back, Qhubeka-Assos’ Victor Campenaerts the next to chance his arm, but that also came to a halt, as Jumbo-Visma and Alpecin-Fenix came to the front of the peloton.
Dipping under 35km to the line, an attack from another Belgian, this time it was Rune Herregodts (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise).
Under the finish line with two laps to go, the gap was only around six seconds, and soon he was joined by Ag2r Citroën’s Julien Duval.
Still, with 25km to go, the two were dangling out front, with 15 seconds advantage, but within 5km they were back in the fold.
The peloton soon took the bell for the last lap, DSM and Alpecin-Fenix on the front of the bunch, Tiesj Benoot soon putting in a little dig.
13km to go and the bunch was all still together, the sprinters’ teams organising themselves, the pace speeding up and everyone now fighting for position.
Into the golden kilometre and Kasper Asgreen took the first three bonus seconds, Christophe Laporte then successfully fending off Sonny Colbrelli in the second sprint, before Asgreen came through once more, with race leader Stefan Bissegger on his wheel, to take three more bonus seconds, the Dane reducing his deficit to the Swiss to just 15 seconds.
Lotto-Soudal’s lead-out man Roger Kluge dropped back to collect his sprinter Caleb Ewan and deliver him up towards the front as they ducked under the 5km banner.
Under 2km to go and the peloton suddenly strung out as the pace really took hold, now twisting and turning into the centre of Ardooie.
But then it all started to bunch up again, riders looking around for their sprinters before the sprint then got underway.
Van Poppel surged through the centre, Fernando Gaviria trying to poke his way through, before Mads Pedersen started to pull clear alongside Alpecin-Fenix’s Tim Merlier edging him out on the line, the former Belgian champion raising his hands as he crossed the line.
Benelux Tour 2021, stage four: Aalter to Ardooie (166.1km)
1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix), in 3-36-29
2. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
3. Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
6. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Victorious
7. Fernando Gaviria (Col) UAE Team Emirates
8. Max Walscheid (Ger) Qhubeka-NextHash
9. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
10. Fabian Lienhard (Sui) Groupama-FDJ
General classification after stage four
1. Stefan Bissegger (Sui) EF Education-Nippo, in 11-01-24
2. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 13s
3. Luke Durbridge (Aus) Team BikeExchange, at 20s
4. Stefan Küng (Sui) Groupama-FDJ, at 20s
5. Max Walscheid (Ger) Team Qhubeka-NextHash, at 22s
6. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, at 26s
7. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Team Qhubeka-NextHash, at 26s
8. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Team Bahrain Victorious, at 36s
9. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, at 40s
10. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Team Bahrain Victorious, at 40s
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