Preparations for De Ronde went into it's final phase today as the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde got underway. For a while this was the "must do" preparation race but these days the statistical correlation between riding De Panne and doing well in Flanders isn't as convincing. With Boonen jumping onboard this year to make up for missed miles elsewhere the attention level jumps up a notch but otherwise the race is a funny old mix of bigger riders riding for training and smaller teams and riders desperate for a result . Todays stage had no shortage of subplots, here are just a few:
- Tom Boonen, Champion in the Making or Damaged Goods? Added to the team in the last minute, organizers even had to (happily) bend the pre-registration rules a little to accomodate him, he's looking to catch up to some kind of form to get on more even terms with Cancellara and Sagan. Today probably gave some very positive answers about his knee, which he banged up in the crash in Gent-Wevelgem. It didn't look to be bothering him in the least as he looked very comfortable at the front of the peloton for most of the stage. He didn't go with the last attacks but that looked more like controlled riding than anyhing else. At no point did he look like he was strugglingand that will probably make people sleep sounder in the OPQS camp tonight.
- Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Patrick Lefevere are in desperate search of an anti-dote to Peter Sagan. Even on the best of days Boonen alone isn't going to take down Sagan on the form he is right now. It's going to take a full on team-strategy to put the Slovak out of contention. Fortunately for Lef, no other team has as many resources at their disposal as his does to make it happen but it doesn't look like they have it figured out quite how to utilize them. If Cannondale can back up their man as well as they have so far the long game with Chavanel and Terpstra could be too easy to neutralize and even if they can't Sagan won't be alone in bringing OPQS back. The dream of other teams collaborating against the superior finisher is seldom a reality, there's always someone willing to help out even if it most likely will at best land them an honorable second place.
- Are we playing nice at OmegaPharma? In related news. People (french media?) seem pretty keen to whip up some polemica in the OPQS camp surrounding the support, or lack thereof, for Sylvain Chavanel. Lef dimisses it of course but the topic is a sensitive one. What would Chavanel be in a parallell universe where he didn't spend his last few seasons on OmegaPharma in service of Tom Boonen? Winner of Flanders, E3 and possibly Roubaix or an undiscovered classics-gem? There's no doubt the classics focus that he has had since joining Lefevere has brought out a different and more powerful rider than he was before. But on the other hand, it's not as if his talents for them were complete news. It was his performances there on Cofidis that got him recruited in the first place. Lef may be many things but a complete gambler he is not. Events on Sunday should probably determine the Frenchman's future on his Belgian team.
- Arnaud Démare is very fast. In a one on one match against Sagan in a tricky finish he came within milimeters of beating him and in a less "complicated" last 50 meters he would have beaten him outright. Démare is clearly a sprinter for the hard races perhaps even more than the pure bunchsprints. Judging by today he's the biggest favorite by far for the Scheldeprijs, perhaps even if Cavendish gets full support from his team on the day.
- The stage today was ultimately won by Peter Sagan who seized control of the stage by patrolling the front in the finale and with ease marking the attacks that went. Terpstra/Chavanel for OPQS and Le Bon/Démare had numbers on Sagan in the final group that led home with 10-15 seconds advantage over the main group but he still came out on top. The OPQS duo find themselves in an excellent GC position so they were probably pretty happy with the outcome anyway. Sixtyseven riders are within 19 seconds of Sagan going into the second long stage tomorrow and are theoretically still in the running for the GC.
GC TOP 5 after Stage 1
1. Peter Sagan
2. Arnaud Démare + 4 sec
3. Alexander Kristoff + 6 sec
4. Sylvain Chavanel + 10 sec
5. Oscar Gatto + 10 sec