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Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Zdenek Stybar, the overall winner of the 2013 Eneco Tour, won stage 2 of this year’s race Tuesday, taking a wet field sprint ahead of Lars Boom (Belkin).
Stybar followed an attack from Boom’s Belkin teammate Sep Vanmarcke, inside the final two kilometers, which also drew out Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing).
The three men opened up a small gap, and through they did not stay clear of the main peloton, they were able to stay at the front through a tricky turn at 600 meters to go, allowing them to sprint for the stage victory.
With the win, Stybar took the race lead, one second ahead of Boom. Vanmarcke finished third on the stage, and sits third overall, six seconds back.
“The final was extraordinarily hectic, especially with the rain,” Stybar said. “I just had to bide my time, and pick the moment. I had great teammates around me. There were a lot of attacks. I know these roads, and when Vanmarcke attacked, I thought, ‘I just have to go with these guys.’ I’m very happy to take the win. I won the race last year, and I’m delighted to be back in the race lead, and on form, at the right time.”
“I came a little closer to a victory than last year, when I finished second here,” said Boom. “The pace was very high in the sprint. I was able to find Stybar’s rear wheel, but nothing more. The boys worked very hard. First they closed a gap and later they led the pack all by themselves. They rode a very strong race.”
The early breakaway
For a bit, it appeared as though the day’s breakaway might stay clear over the 177km route from Waalwijk to Heusden.
With 20km to go, three men — Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) — held a 2:52 lead over a hard-charging peloton.
Giant-Shimano’s pre-race favorite, Tom Dumolin, punctured, and chased desperately to bring him back as Garmin, Belkin, and Omega Pharma drove the peloton.
At 18km to go, the gap was down to 2:40, and at 10km to go, the gap had come down to 1:24.
As the gap came down, Brutt attacked Gougeard and Van Melsen, attempting to go it alone.
Two key riders for the field sprint, Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma) and J.J. Rojas (Movistar) tangled up while exiting a roundabout with 8km to go. The crash caused a split in the peloton. Several marquee riders, such as Geraint Thomas (Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), and Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) missed the split.
Overhead rain clouds, which had threatened throughout the stage, finally opened up with just seven kilometers to go, as the gap had come down to 39 seconds.
“It was the same windy day as Monday [stage 1], but this time the weather changed four times in the last 10K,” said Astana’s Andrei Grivko.
Brutt was caught at four kilometers to go, just as Dumolin regained contact with the peloton.
“Everything was pretty nice and controlled until the final 30km where everyone started to get a bit nervous ahead of the crosswinds which we knew were coming,” said Giant-Shimano’s Roy Curvers. “I made the decision to stop with five guys [when Tom punctured] as at that moment the front of the race was splitting in echelons and this made the chase back on even harder to get around these groups. It really was the worst moment to puncture, and all we could do was give everything to get him back up there. Luckily we made it back to the convoy and from here Tom went on alone and made it back to the bunch, but it’s disappointing to lose seconds in the overall in this way.”
Inside two kilometers, Vanmarcke attacked, with Gilbert on his wheel, and Stybar following. The three riders exited a tricky turn at 600 meters to go, and were in prime position to contend for the final sprint.
“I feel pretty relaxed now despite a very hectic final,” Stybar said. “Everything turned out well and I’m happy with my victory. In the final we were there with the whole team, and we started to make an echelon with the crosswind. We were just riding hard and in perfect position. I knew in advance that I have to be in front on the cobblestones, especially because they were wet. There were only two lines on the cobbles where you could ride safely.
“Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) in that [moment] tried to ride away on the left side. We were all on the right side. but we closed the gap. Then Vanmarcke tried on his own, so that was the moment when I jumped on someone’s wheel. Then when we caught up to that move with 1.5 kilometers to go, I saw Boom and Quinziato going. So I directly jumped on their wheel. They were giving everything, and I knew that Lars would go full gas to the final to try and win in his hometown. I didn’t work with the others because I knew if I did, I would lose the sprint.
“In that moment Bauke Mollema (Belkin) came back and he started his sprint a bit early. I took over on the front for the sprint probably at about 250 meters to go, in front of the turn. It was a really long sprint. At one moment I thought it was too long, but I managed to stay in front and take the win.”
Wednesday’s third stage of the race is a 9.6km time trial in Breda, with rain in the forecast.
“I just have to see what will happen tomorrow in the time trial,” said Stybar, the race’s new leader. “I’m curious how I’ll do tomorrow and I’ll do my best to defend my jersey and minimize any time losses. We’re a really strong team and the last three days should suit me. The condition is good, so I will try to go for it, whether that means winning another stage or winning the GC for the second year in a row. We’ll see what I can do.”