The sprint at the end of the Classic Brugge-De Panne.

Merlier narrowly pips Groenewegen to win the Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne

Tim Merlier takes the victory by a thin margin.

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Tim Merlier picked up the first WorldTour one-day race win of the year for Alpecin-Fenix at Wednesday’s Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne, pipping Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) by the narrowest of margins.

The 207.9 km race through West Flanders came down to a bunch kick in the seaside town of De Panne, where Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl drove a hard pace on the finishing straight. Quick-Step, however, did not have a sprinter in place behind its train to take advantage of the hard work, and thus a collection of fast finishers on other teams surged to the front in the final few hundred meters.

Merlier and Groenewegen were side-by-side as they wound up to speed with Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) also visible to their left. As the final few meters approached, it was still unclear whether Merlier or Groenewegen would come out ahead, and neither rider celebrated at the line as it remained unclear who had taken the win in the close battle.

After a few moments of uncertainty, Merlier was declared the winner, with the finish line photo showing him ahead by a little more than the width of a tire.

Groenewegen, who is still looking for his first WorldTour win since coming back from a suspension for the part he played in a crash at the Tour of Poland that left Fabio Jakobsen seriously injured, settled for runner-up honors. Bouhanni rounded out the podium on the day.

For Alpecin-Fenix, the win marks the first time a rider other than Mathieu van der Poel has taken a one-day win at the WorldTour level. For Merlier, it’s another big result in what is shaping up to be a fine early-season campaign. The 29-year-old Belgian won a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and took the victory at the Danilith Nokere Koerse earlier this month.

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