Jasper Stuyven sprinted to third place in a demanding stage six at the Binckbank Tour Saturday, arriving with a small chase group 17 seconds behind Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).
The stage was nothing short of punishing: over 200 kilometers with rain and 14 Ardennes climbs made for a demanding day on the bike in the Binckbank Tour's penultimate stage, and when the hammer fell for the last time on the final climb, only the strongest remained.
"It was a really hard day, and with the rain, it made it even harder. It was not only about the legs but also about the head, and I think I was prepared. I did the recon of this stage a few weeks ago, so I was really confident to do well here or to limit my losses, and I think I did quite well. Yeah, It was a nice day!" said a jubilant Stuyven.
With the day's breakaway already tamed, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) activated the final selection on the last uphill 24 kilometers from the end, accelerating and shattering the lead group, which had been pared to around 18 riders after the iconic Côte de Saint-Roch a few kilometers earlier.
Sagan then suffered a most untimely front tire flat leaving Wellens – the only one able to catch his wheel – alone, and Dumoulin bridged to him a few moments later.
Over the next 20 or so kilometers, the pair successfully held off a select chase group of five riders that included Stuyven. With Wellens' teammate Tiesj Benoot obviously sitting on, the four others traded pulls and brought the two leaders to within 10 seconds, but no more. Wellens and Dumoulin slowly increased the gap to 22 seconds and held on to contest a two-up sprint, with Wellens grabbing the win and Dumoulin the leader's jersey.
"I think they were really strong in the front because the four of us in the back were pulling full, I think everyone went all-in," explained Stuyven. "We didn't care about Tiesj hanging on because of course, he had Tim in the front. At the end the four of us couldn't close it, we were close, but I think the two strongest were in the front and were also working really well together."
"It's a pity, but we went all to the line and no gambling at the end. Close, but not close enough," he added.
Seventeen seconds later Stuyven sprinted across the line ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) for third place moving him into fourth in the overall classification.
"I was a little bit surprised I could sprint for third because I went into the last corner in third place and I forgot it was actually sharper than I remembered from the lap before so I had to open up a gap," continued Stuyven. "Then I started my sprint, and I was still able to finish third. This was good for me after such a hard day; to still have a good sprint in the legs against also Greg, who is not just someone. So that was a good feeling and nice way to finish the day."
Stage seven, the final race of the weeklong tour, has shaped up to be another difficult day. Stuyven is six seconds from the podium, but a few others sit 10-11 seconds behind him, and of course, no one can ever count out Sagan, who will surely make amends for his bad luck.
"I have not seen the GC but I think it's still so close with a few spots behind me, and the guys behind me will also try to make a good overall. I will also try to move up, but it's not so easy to move up one spot, two, or even more," pointed out Stuyven. "I think it will be still a really hard day. The team has been working really well for me this week, and I think tomorrow we have to go one more day all-in and then hopefully the legs are still good, and I can move up, but it's not going to be an easy day."
"We saw with Sagan that luck is also a part of cycling – we will try to stay out of trouble and hopefully will have the luck on our side," he added.