Gianni Vermeersch wins queen stage in Dunkirk, Philippe Gilbert new leader: “I would have liked to have taken more distance, because I really want to win this round”

Philippe Gilbert is therefore the new leader on the eve of the closing of the Four Days of Dunkirk. Although the almost forty-year-old leader of Lotto-Soudal would have preferred a larger lead over Oliver Naesen and Jake Stewart. “Because I finished fourth at the finish, I just missed the bonus seconds,” said a previously disappointed Gilbert, who laid his cards on the table less than two kilometers from the finish in Cassel.

“It will be very difficult,” Gilbert told Nico Mattan, who interviewed him on behalf of the organization of the Four Days of Dunkirk. “I also refuse to think that the overall victory is mine. We also have intermediate sprints in the final stage in which bonus seconds can be earned.”

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“Maybe I made a mistake myself today by attacking just a little too early in the slot,” said Gilbert. “There was quite a bit of headwind. I fell silent before we drove under the city gate. I then made another small mistake by going left, while on the right there was a stretch of ten to fifteen meters that ran a little more. I only saw it when Gianni Vermeersch was on it. It’s details, but when you’re playing the game for the win, those kinds of details are what count. Anyway, I couldn’t make the difference there anymore”, Gilbert looked into his own chest. “I knew very well that Vermeersch, who had kept up with me, would not help me, because he was fully aiming for the stage victory. I accelerated again on that last slope at 500 meters from the finish, but I couldn’t get behind him and the returning Oliver Naesen. I would have liked to have been third, then my margin on second in the standings would have been double. But c’est comme ça

Philippe Gilbert had launched his attack about 1.5 kilometers from the finish, on the last ascent of the Kasselberg. Gianni Vermeersch and Oliver Naesen reacted so that a Belgian trio battled for the stage victory. Oliver Naesen launched the sprint too early and was remounted by Gianni Vermeersch. Jake Stewart was third ahead of Gilbert.

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Vermeersch: “This is my dream ride”

Gianni Vermeersch was very satisfied with his victory. “This is my dream ride. I train a lot in this area. I knew Gilbert would attack in the final. His attack was very strong. But I was still able to get on his wheel. In the sprint itself, Naesen tried to surprise me, but in the end I finished it,” said the West Flemish.

Oliver Naesen (AG2R-Citroën) was disappointed with his two second places, both in the stage and in the general classification. “That’s not quite what we wanted, although there is also satisfaction with the work of the team. Tomorrow there are still opportunities, but it will not be easy. The overall victory will be determined by bonus seconds and then you cannot make any mistakes.”

The riders had to climb the Mont de Cassel nine times in the queen stage of 183.7 kilometers. After about 25 kilometers a leading group had formed with six riders: Max Poole (DSM), Maurice Ballerstedt (Alpecin-Fenix), Louis Blouwe (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Andrea Mifsud (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur), Léo Danès ( Team U Nantes Atlantique) and Alex Colman (Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise), who finally secured his polka dot jersey.

With sixty kilometers to go, a chasing group of four riders (Matthieu Ladagnous, Jake Stewart, Stéphane Rossetto and Michael Gogl) joined the front runners, where Colman and Danès dropped out. The peloton followed at 1’23”, while the maximum lead of the front runners had been six minutes.

In the final, many riders tried to get away, but in the end the winner would come from a peloton of about forty riders. Gilbert broke free from this, after which Vermeersch and Oliver Naesen became one and two.

© AFP

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