Wrong wheel change scuppers Evenepoel as Merlier wins Benelux stage

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Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix won the opening stage of the Tour of Benelux (AFP/KRISTOF VAN ACCOM)
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A mechanic fixed Remco Evenepoel's bike with the wrong wheel on Monday causing him to lose time as Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix continued his fine season by winning the opening stage of the Tour of Benelux in Dokkum, northern Netherlands.

Merlier has won stages on the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France this term and with the peloton smashed into small groups due to strong wind the 28-year-old won a sprint from a small group ahead of Phil Bauhaus and Alvaro Hodeg.

Belgian ace Remco Evenepoel had been in the lead group until a clash of bikes 28km from the finish broke spokes on his front wheel, but this was only the start of his troubles.

The neutral mechanic used a wrong replacement wheel, mistaking back for front, and then struggled to take it off again, causing Evenepoel to drop down the field before rallying to finish 57sec down.

Evenepoel then confronted Alpecin rider Gianni Vermeersch demanding an apology for the manoeuvre that he felt caused the damage at the finish line.

"It was a nervy stage due to all the wind and you had to be constantly aware to be in the right place at the right time," Merlier said after his eighth win of the campaign.

Tuesday's stage is an 11km individual time-trial also in the Netherlands in a race whose finale is in Grammont in Belgium on Sunday.

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