German sprinter André Greipel attacked to win Three Days of De Panne stage one from an escape on Tuesday in Zottegem.
“It was unexpected today. It was good to try something different,” said Greipel of team OmegaPharma-Lotto. “It was the first time to win like this.”
Greipel also took the race lead with his win ahead of Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), Dmitriy Muravyev (RadioShack) and Vladimir Gusev (Katusha). He sprinted ahead of his three escape companions right as the main group closed on their advantage.
“I am tired now,” Greipel added. “It’s not the best way to win.”
Greipel joined the head group with 64 kilometres to race, after the Valkenburg climb. At 24 kilometres out, he attacked and helped form the final four-man group.
“He was disappointed about Ghent-Wevelgem, he was boxed in for the sprint there. His dream is to win a classic like that,” said Omega Pharma team manager, Marc Sergeant.
“He wanted to prove today, ‘I am strong and I can win alone.’”
Sky’s Michael Barry, Russell Downing and CJ Sutton helped close the gap down on the escape for team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins won the final day’s time trial in 2009 and this year, aims to emulate David Millar’s overall win one year ago.
“We wanted to bring some time back because it was not a good situation for Bradley,” said Sky’s sports director, Steven De Jongh. “Bradley feels pretty good. Tomorrow, we will try to not lose any time.”
Wiggins finished in the small lead group, but he’ll worry about Westra, who placed second in the time trial last year and in 2009. Today, Westra earned six bonus seconds for finishing second.
“Westra and Gusev want to go for the overall,” added Sergeant. “If you saw Westra today, he is a big favourite. If he does the time trial as he does every year, he’s the man to beat.”
The stage from Oudenaarde to Koksijde tomorrow is easier on paper, taking in less of Belgium’s bergs and cobbled roads. Providing the group stays together, the race will be decided in the final day’s split stage: a morning leg of 111 kilometres and a 14.7-kilometre time trial in the afternoon.
Millar won the TT last year and took the overall victory by 35 seconds over Andriy Grivko.
Both Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) and Leif Hoste (Katusha) crashed and abandoned today. Hoste’s chance at finally winning the Tour of Flanders on Sunday is in doubt, he was taken to the hospital with broken teeth and several cuts to his face. A CT scan at the hospital was negative.
“Can he race Sunday?” said the race doctor. “I hope so, but I doubt it due to the pain and swelling.”
Three Days of De Panne 2011, stage one: Middelkerke to Zottegem, 194km
1. Andre Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
3. Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Radioshack
4. Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Katusha
5. Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM
6. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
7. Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-ISD
8. Allan Davis (Aus) Astana
9. Mark Renshaw (Aus) HTC-Highroad
10. Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Francaise des Jeux all same time
24. Russell Downing (GB) Sky at same time
35. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky at same time
114. Ben Swift (GB) Sky at 41 secs
165. Peter Kennaugh (GB) Sky at 12-32