Team RadioShack’s Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) hung tough today in cold, wet conditions to take 7th place in a furious bunch sprint finish to the 111-kilometer half-stage of the 3 Days of De Panne. With the unusual two event closing day format, like the Criterium International, this first half-stage started early and was over by noon. The finishers looked like they’d been out much longer, muddy, drenched and cold, with few but the stage’s winner Liquigas-Cannondale’s Jacopo Guarnieri (ITL) having a smile for the crowd.
Team RadioShack riders road smart and patient today, particularly Kwiatkowski and TRS’s Dmitriy Muravyev (KAZ), staying calmly in the draft as several break-aways at different points tried to take advantage of a badly split peloton with some fairly serious looking challenges. However all were pulled back in time for the lead group to reform for the dash to the line. With no good wheel to hang with at the end, Kwiatkowski went off to the right in the last 250 meters having to part the wind on his own, coming in with a very respectable finish given the circumstance.
TRS’s Muravyev moved up 2 rungs on the leader board with his efforts today, now sitting in 4th place on the overall general classification, just 6 seconds out, coming into the afternoon’s second and last event the individual time trial.
Conditions were perfect for a Belgium road race today for these concluding stages of the De Panne, formerly known as KBC-Driedaagse De Pnne-Koksijde. Cold temperatures (12°C), lead thick clouds, constant rain, harsh winds, pancake flat course. Belgium racing at it’s best. As one knowledgeable commentator was heard saying, the true classics guys like this weather cause they know that at least half the peloton will have mentally beaten themselves in contemplation of the misery to come. After a kilometer many did look miserable with soaked uniforms and muddy faces grimacing into the headwinds.
Ignoring those conditions, the tougher riders drove the pace hard from the start, out of the city of De Panne averaging over 48 kmh for the first hour on the slippery roads of Stage 3a on the northeast coast of Belgium. Several falls, bunches of tire punctures and bike changes, and many riders spit out the back of the peloton with the winds yanking the groups apart early and often. The locals thrive in these conditions and it’s reflected in the overall general classification at this point with a Belgium rider and 2 Netherland’s riders at the top of the GC. There’s one hitch in that thinking and that’s our Polish rider Muravyev, but it just so happens that he lived in Belgium for many years and loves the classics:
1. Bert DE BACKER (BEL) Skil-Shimano
2. Lieuwe WESTRA (NED) Vacansoliel
3. Arnoud VAN GROEN (NED) Veranda’s Willems
4. Dmitriy MURAVYEV (POL) Team RadioShack
All this can, and likely will change in this afternoon’s individual time trial. There are some quality riders still in the hunt, but with a relatively technical course on wet pavement anything can happen. Stay tuned.
By George Hurst, staff writer