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Alexander Kristoff won stage 3a of the VDK Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne) on Thursday, seizing the overall lead with one stage remaining.
The Katusha rider edged Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) in a finishing sprint to claim victory in the 110-kilometer stage around De Panne.
Kristoff, who earned the points title at the 2012 race, holds a four-second lead over Arnaud Demare (FDJ) in the GC standings. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is third, nine seconds behind Kristoff.
“I wanted this victory and I managed to get it,” Kristoff said in a team press release. “I thank all my teammates and especially Rudiger Selig, who was really superb in the final. It was important to stay in front after the last corner, I took a good gap over the rivals and I managed to keep it, even if I started my rush quite early [with 300 meters left].
“I knew the stage because I won it last year, so together with the team we could get the best strategy to win.”
The race will conclude later Thursday with stage 3b, a 14.8km time trial.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who triumphed in stage 1 before losing his GC lead the next day, opted to forgo Thursday’s stages as he prepares for Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma), who won Flanders in 2005, 2006, and 2012, also abandoned the race.
“I wanted to get in some kilometers here before the Tour of Flanders but you mustn’t turn that into additional efforts,” Sagan told La Dernière Heure. “Now I’m going to prepare calmly for Sunday.”
Boonen is recovering from a knee injury and did not want to risk making it worse.
“I feel my knee a bit still when I have to go flat out, but I can’t complain,” Boonen told the paper.