Stage 3 of the Eneco Tour looked to be in the hands of a five man breakaway until the last 100m when the break wavered, lost momentum, and relinquished their opportunity to the chasing peloton. Martin Elmiger of IAMCycling started the day 23 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis, and by getting into the break almost as soon as the race began, spent much of the afternoon as the virtual race leader on the road. Elmiger was accompanied by Brit Mark McNally of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Jesper Asselman of Roompot Oranje, Yukiya Arashiro of Lampre-Merida and Stijn Steels of Topsport Vlaanderen. At one point, the leaders were ahead by over 6 minutes.
As the leaders passed under the flamme rouge, the peloton still had their work cut out on the chase – especially given the fact that no one team was keen to commit to reeling in the five leading riders. Frustration began to simmer in the peloton as the sprinters’ teams got edgy. Etixx-Quickstep sent Tony Martin to the head of the bunch to chase in earnest, a role he didn’t seem exactly pleased to be asked to fulfil.
With the finish line in sight and 100m of road left, the breakaway hesitated, looking at one another and appearing to have lost all sense of race tactics. Seizing this opportunity – the only one they’d been presented with all day, the peloton took the initiative and swept up the five leaders.
Sagan, coming from well back, managed to glide through gaps visible to no-one but the Slovak rider, as his bike handling skills saw him sail across the finish line for victory, in an unbelievable sprint which social media was quick to christen ‘the finish of the season’. Team Sky’s Danny Van Poppel crossed in second place, with Nacer Boudhanni of Cofidis in third.
Sagan’s winning time of 4:10:36 sees him move up to second in GC, 3 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis, who retains the leader’s jersey going into day 4. Alex Dowsett of Movistar is the highest placed British rider in 11th place, with Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin in 14th and 15th place respectively, 20 seconds back as a result of losing time on Tuesday’s TT. Dumoulin had been enjoying a rich seam of form – perhaps his heavy race calendar and numerous top 3 placings have taken their toll as the seasons draws nearer its close.
Tomorrow, Stage 4 – the only one to top 200km, takes the riders across numerous stretches of Belgian pave, with three uphill sections on the circuit, including Bruine Put at 8.2%.