Juan Antonio Flecha finished in fourth place on a dramatic opening stage of Circuit Franco-Belge which saw Jurgen Roelandts sprint to victory.
Flecha was one of the most aggressive riders on the day, and infiltrated the decisive eight-man move which stayed clear to contest the win.
The Spaniard tried to shed his rivals after they’d passed under the flamme rouge, but even when they’d reeled him back in during the dying stages, he battled on and was the next rider home after Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) had outpaced Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) and Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) for his second win of the season.
Not surprisingly, Roelandt’s triumph saw him take control of the leader’s jersey with a nine-second advantage over Van Keirsbulck, courtesy of bonuses accrued throughout the stage. Flecha sits 13 seconds off the lead in fourth overall.
The race had got off to a stormy start and Team Sky were reduced to six riders before they’d even begun after Jeremy Hunt was forced to pull out overnight through illness.
After numerous early attacks, five riders eventually moved clear, and had built a lead of almost four minutes when a large crash caused a large split in the peloton.
Flecha had been well positioned ahead of the carnage, and after the break had been reeled back in he moved clear with 23 other riders, and then jumped again with his seven collaborators inside the last 10km.
Clearly feeling strong, Flecha launched a determined late attack, but was overhauled just before the line and only narrowly missed out on the podium.
De Jongh impressed
After the stage, Sports Director Steven de Jongh was full of praise for the determination Flecha had demonstrated on the day, and also singled Chris Sutton out after an encouraging return to action.
He told us: “Flecha had a really good day and it’s obvious he’s in good shape. We’d liked to have had more men there with him, but G punctured on a cobbled section just before the crash, and then Swifty and CJ both had to work hard to chase back on before the final.
“On the last lap there were plenty of attacks and Flecha followed them all. He tried to surprise everyone with that last move, but even when he’d been caught, he still sprinted it out at the end.
“CJ did really well as well. This is his first race since he pulled out of the Eneco Tour through injury, and he had a good first day back at the office.
“I’m hoping this good early progress will continue in the days to come. It’s slightly hillier tomorrow but they shouldn’t cause too many problems so we’ll be looking for another fast finish.”