Boy van Poppel sprinted to third place in a high-paced final stage of the Baloise Belgium Tour, Sunday, and capped off a successful race for Trek-Segafredo.
Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) won the final stage sprint, capitalizing on a strong leadout by his team, while the fight behind was for his wheel, explained van Poppel.
"Everyone was fighting for the wheel of Debusschere, and I could manage to keep it," said van Poppel. "The team did a great job helping me keep position in the last kilometers, and I am happy with my third.
"The plan was to go for the sprint with Edward, but he said he was on his limit, and I was given the chance. I even went back at the end to ask Edward if he was sure, but he said 'yeah, yeah, I am really à bloc.' I was very happy to have the chance, but I was really nervous too! But it went really great, and I was in the right wheel."
The 170-kilometer stage five was a heated affair with the top of general classification separated by seconds and a looming golden kilometer with precious bonus time up for grabs at 25-kilometers to go. As a result, the five-man breakaway that included Matthias Brändle was never given a large gap and brought to heed in time for the peloton to fight out the three sprints of the golden kilometer.
It was good to see Boy get a chance, to give him something back for all his hard work; he is always giving everything for the team.
Jens Keukeleire, riding for the Belgium National Team, captured enough time bonus to become virtual leader on the road and despite him crashing inside the final kilometer, sealed his win when he crossed the line, safe under the three-kilometer ruling.
"Having Matthias in the break was not really our plan, we always knew that it would end with a sprint with the teams going for the golden kilometer for the GC," explained director Dirk Demol. "Our plan today was to go for the sprint with Edward, and we agreed to finalize that during the race since he is still not fully recovered from his crash Wednesday. Edward said at 50kms to go that he was not feeling good, so Boy was given the chance to make the sprint, and he made third place.
"It was good to see Boy get a chance, to give him something back for all his hard work; he is always giving everything for the team. Okay, it's not a win, but I am very happy for him that he could make a good result. We have won a stage, we were second yesterday, and now third today - we leave the Tour very satisfied."
A valued team worker, van Poppel is always expending his energy, selflessly, behind the scenes, and rarely gets a moment in the limelight. A victory would have been a fairy-tale ending, but a podium placing still leaves him in high morale, especially after he surprisingly felt good all week, he said.
"I was satisfied with my whole tour; even yesterday I could follow late into the race in a stage that didn't suit me at all," added the soft-spoken van Poppel. "I have not raced in a long time, but I felt good all week. I was good yesterday and even felt better today. This gives me a lot of motivation for the next races."