Edward Theuns from Trek-Segafredo wins stage four
Sagan finishes fourth and holds the race’s blue jersey and sits fourth in the GC. BMC Racing's Stefan Kung retains race lead.
The peloton was welcomed to Belgium for a second day of racing on the BinckBank Tour in a manner that would be familiar to the Classics riders in the race – with an undulating parcours and challenging weather conditions. The 154.2km course took riders on an out and back route, starting and finishing in Lanaken. The circuitous route meant the race never travelled too far from the north-eastern town, and this meant the whole stage took place in damp weather conditions. A flat finale suggested a sprint, but a challenging street circuit with the kinds of bends where wet roads would be likely to cause a crash meant the finish could be slower than anticipated.
As the rain fell and dampened the roads, it was clear none of the riders was keen to go out in front to form an escape. The kilometres passed by until finally, ignoring the poor weather conditions, a three-man break grit their teeth and went on the attack 40km out, rapidly building up a lead of 2:30.
With many of the peloton wearing arm warmers to keep the cold away, the bunch was happy to allow this small group to go on ahead, preferring to ride tempo and stay warm. Completing two large circuits before two smaller ones, the peloton was confident they would be able to make the catch in time for a sprint finish. At the 55km to go mark, BORA-hansgrohe took over on the front of the chasing bunch, and in true BORA-hansgrohe style, reduced the gap massively in just a few kilometres. With less than 30km remaining, the trio of breakaway riders nervously looked over their shoulder to see the peloton approaching at speed. At 26km it was all back together.
Edward Theuns was victorious on the line. One year ago, Edward Theuns was flat on his back, constrained mostly to his bed. It was beginnings of what would be a long road to recovery from a fractured vertebra he sustained in a crash at the 2016 Tour de France
Although Theuns returned to racing this season, he was still not completely pain-free and underwent surgery after the spring classics in late April to remove the hardware still in his spine. It was another few weeks to recover, and once again, more hard work to return to his top race form.
In stage four at the Binckbank Tour, Theuns put closure on his near-career ending injury for good, winning his first race since his horrible crash, and his first WorldTour victory of his career.
Victory is always sweet, but for Theuns on Thursday, it was that much sweeter, "It's a big relief, I am really happy," said an elated Theuns. "I had a real rough time since I crashed in the Tour last year and I worked really hard to come back. After the spring classics, I again had surgery to take out the pins in my back, and since that surgery, I feel that I am getting stronger every week. I had a great training camp at altitude during the Tour, and now it pays off."
Theuns sprinted to second place in Wednesday's stage three, giving him and the team confidence and high morale to play for the win again.
A late attack by Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) almost spoiled the impeccable team work, but Boy van Poppel and Jasper Stuyven uncannily timed the catch at 200 meters to go, and Theuns finished off the perfect lead out.
"Dirk told us in the radio that Lampaert had a pretty good gap, but in the last kilometers to just focus on good positioning and sprinting so I wasn't really looking at the situation. In the end, the gap opened on the right moment and Boy could go to the front with me and Jasper," explained Theuns.
"When I started the sprint, I was able to go a little bit to his wheel, and it gave me a better slipstream, which was perfect for me. The lead out was really good, and I am super happy to give a reward to the whole team, for the hard work they do."
"After yesterday, I really believed in it, and the team believed in it. Already yesterday we were really riding together as a group, and it was close, and today we tried again. Yesterday after the stage Dirk said tomorrow we go again for it, and in the end, it all turned out perfect."
Delivered to the line safely by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates, Peter Sagan was looking forward to seeing how the GC race would unfold in the days to come. "We had another fast, wet and hard stage at the BinckBank Tour. The team did an excellent job, pulling hard to bring back the breakaway, practically by themselves. As expected, it all came down to a fast bunch sprint, where I was fourth. The GC hasn't changed, we have Bodi in second place, myself tied with Dumoulin for third - all of us within 5 seconds - and three more stages where anything can happen. We'll keep fighting every day."
2017 BinckBankTour Stage 4 Top Ten
1 Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo 3:24:23
2 Marko Kump (Slo) Team UAE Emirates
3 Tim Merlier (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
6 Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Team Sky
7 Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott
8 Marc Sarreau (Fra) FDJ
9 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Sunweb
10 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Cannondale-Drapac
2017 BinckBankTour GC after Stage 4
1 Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team 11:39:31
2 Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:04
3 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb 0:00:05
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb 0:00:08
6 Lars Boom (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 0:00:10
7 Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:12
8 Matthias Brändle (Aut) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:14
9 Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:17
10 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal