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Meersman wins stage 1 sprint at Tour de Romandie

Gianni Meersman paid back the work of his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team with a stage 2 victory at the Tour de Romandie in Renens, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

Meersman took top honors in a bunch sprint at the end of the 176-kilometer romp from St. Maurice to Renens. Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Leopard) was second, with Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) third.

Overnight leader Chris Froome (Sky) maintained his six-second overall lead on Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp).

“It was a hard stage. The team worked perfectly in the final,” said Meersman.

Escapees Mathias Brandle (IAM Cycling) and Jérémy Roy (FDJ) carried almost 30 seconds inside 20km to go. Behind the leading pair, Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) led the peloton, but the gap remained north of 25 seconds.

Meersman’s former world champion teammate Mark Cavendish did not appear to be in the peloton, but Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was in the bunch after the day’s three rated climbs. With 16km to go, both teams put riders on the front, Omega Pharma lining up six riders, including time trial world champion Tony Martin, to pull for Meersman.

Still, the escapees carried 28 seconds inside 10km to go. It wasn’t until Astana, Cannondale, and BMC Racing began pressing at the front that the gap began dropping. With 4.7km to go, the peloton erased the breakaway and the race was lined up for a bunch finish.

In the final 5km, no single team could control the race and the peloton weaved and swelled across the road with multiple trains working. Seemingly sensing the danger of the disorganization for its overall aspirations, Sky surged with 3km to go, but Manuele Boaro (Saxo-Tinkoff) made use of a median to attack up the right side of the road and break free.

Argos-Shimano pushed into action and hunted Boaro down. Martin led the bunch through a series of sweeping corners just over 1km out. BMC Racing took over from there with Marcus Burghardt leading out Adam Blythe, but they appeared to have surged too early, and faded in the finale.

Argos led out the sprint from the final corner with two riders, but Meersman was too strong and pushed up the left side of the road for victory. Nizzolo fought through traffic for third, with Ferrari to the left of his rear wheel.

“With 500 meters, I had to break, but I found my good legs and I found victory,” said Meersman. “The goal was that if Mark was there after the last climb, it was for Mark. If not, it was for me. I took my chance and I’m happy.

“I’m hoping to take another stage. … Tomorrow.”

The Tour de Romandie continues Thursday with the 190km second stage from Prilly to Granges. The route features two rated climbs, with the summit of the Cat. 3 Plagne coming inside 18km to go.

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