Alexander Kristoff brought the leader's jersey home in style at stage 2 of Driedaagse De Panne with another mammoth sprint victory, launching from behind teammate Jacopo Guarnieri in the final corner to thunder home in front of the scrambled sprint. Elia Viviani took a strong second for Team Sky, followed by Shane Archbold of Bora-Argon. The Norwegian now sits 16 seconds ahead of Trek's Stijn Devolder for the overall lead heading into the race's last day.
The stage unfolded as this stage usually does, with a break that didn't have much chance, leading to a bunch sprint on the not-so-skinny roads of Koksijde, by the North Sea. Several teams showed interest, first MTN-Qhubeka for Kristian Sbaraglia, then a swarm of teams including Lampre, FDJ, Astana, Orica-GreenEdge, Lotto-Soudal and others. Team Sky, following a theme for the entire season, did the best job of moving up coming into the final KM, organizing on the left side of the road and putting Viviani in position. But for all these efforts, very little was gained, as a massive pull by Sky's Bradley Wiggins (flipping off the cameraman because Wiggins) stretched the peloton's elastic to the breaking point, and some traffic islands further broke up the cohesion of the pack, leaving a few gaps between the bunches coming into the last turn.
Guarnieri and Kristoff survived at the very front, and as Guarnieri lost contact Kristoff briefly found the wheel of Lampre's Sacha Modolo, enough to wind himself up for the final run. Once again, it was a painfully long sprint, and an organized sprint team might have had a chance, but Viviani alone and Sacha Modolo on the other side had no way to rein in the Norwegian powerhouse.
Kristoff's lead may or may not hold up to the end. If he manages to win the morning stage tomorrow, additional bonus seconds will push his lead out to perhaps 25 seconds heading into the final time trial, a 14.2km affair. Devolder, devoid of results for a long time, performed admirably in two time trials at Tirreno-Adriatico and has a well-known history of strength in the discipline. Should Kristoff not extend his lead in time bonuses, Devolder will likely emerge as the favorite to win. But Kristoff, though rarely asked to win on his aero bike, is nonetheless a decent rider in the discipline, recently finishing 35th in the Col d'Eze crono at Paris-Nice, ahead of noted cronoman Lars Boom. Not comparable, but it supports the idea that Kristoff is just plain strong, and not unfamiliar with his time trial bike. The course is technical enough to favor both pure strength (blasting out of the turns) and strong handling technique over the other typical time trial qualities. But 14km is no mere prologue. Should make for great drama.
- Alexander Kristoff, Katusha
- Elia Viviani, Sky, s.t.
- Shane Archbold, Bora-Argon, s.t.
- Stijn Devolder, Trek, at 0.16
- Lars Bak, Lotto-Soudal, at 0.17