With just four days to go to the big Event it was the first day of race reconnaissance for many of the big teams. Etixx-Quickstep were out there and using the type of special methods that have led them to such a string of brilliant cobble-results this spring Pat Lefevere did his recon by........helicopter? Rumors that he was scouring the flemish countryside for someone, anyone, who could get his team a result have not been confirmed although it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world at this point.
While Lef was trying to come up with high flying plans that have little or no chance of actually working on Sunday the Lotto captains Jurgen Roelandts and Tiesj Benoot were riding the finale and actually coming up with some sound thinking. Those two have obviously come to the quite reasonable conclusion that they aren't going to win much by trying to follow Cance, Sagan and Van Avermaet on the Kwaremont so the word of the day in the Lotto camp is "anticiperen" and that music couldn't be sweeter to my ears. Of course having the plan to go on an earlier attack and actually pulling it off will be two very different things but at least the idea is there. They also seem to be hoping on some cooperations with teams like Etixx and Sky who should have similar interests but there things never seem to work out the way you hope. If there is one thing you can count on bike racers for it's stabbing you in the back and working against their own interests to make sure no one else takes advantage of them and then wins.
Perhaps the biggest problems for early attacks like the ones the Lotto boys are hoping for on Sunday may be the team strengths of BMC and Trek-Segafredo. BMC may only have Greg Van A as a real contender but they do have players fully capable of covering moves and ruining the day of fresh faced optimists who thought they could get in a good breakaway of eager companions. Instead they may find themselves with a huge hairy Oss-shaped rucksack of non-cooperative wheelsucking that they have no use of whatsoever. Even worse they may end up with a fast sprinting Edward Theuns from Trek sitting on the back of their group with a huge grin on his face hoping to get a free ride to the best day of his life. It seems impossible but we may actually get to see Fabian have some use of his teammates for once in Flanders, wouldn't that be a novel idea?
Another bit of sad but not entirely unexpected news out of the Ag2r camp. Breakaway-loony sensation Alexis Gougeard will be sitting out Flanders and Roubaix since he isn't 100% fit. It was in the cards after his lackluster performances last week but it is still disappointing. He may not have been a likely winner but he was almost sure to add some color if he had been fit and fresh talent is always more interesting than crusty old farts like Boonen and Cancellara. Oh well, the kid is young an we are almost guaranteed to see him play a major role here in years to come instead.
Over in the small fish pond Heinrich Haussler is making noises that he is coming into form exactly when he needs it in Flanders and Roubaix where he will captain IAM. Those of you looking for nostalgia and an escape from reality can read all about it over at Cyclingtips.
Twodaagse de Driedaagse
Todays action in De Panne didn't really tell us much about Flanders. It was the expected sprinters affair and the outcome was predictable in all aspects except the outcome. We saw Topsport Vlaanderen in a doomed breakaway, we had nasty crashes (Nicola Boem looked worst off) and we had a big well lead-out sprint at the end. The only thing that didn't go quite to plan was Marcel Kittel not finishing off a strong Etixx lead out with a win. Instead he found (or put?) himself in the wind a little bit too early in a headwind finish and was fading a little as a perfectly timed Elia Viviani of Team Sky came off his wheel and sprinted past. Another strong indication that Sky actually know what they are doing a lot of the time. Viviani will be resting on Sunday but come Scheldeprijs, and maybe even Roubaix, he will be a force to be reconed with. The only question mark on Sky today was Luke Rowe not finishing the stage. So far there is no word if he did it to save up for Sunday or if it was a worrying sign that he is having some kind of problem.
Alexander Kristoff was never in it for the win on the stage today, he came from a bit too far back, but his third place finish secured him a few bonus seconds that may prove valuable if he decides to go full out for the overall win in the TT tomorrow. He didn't sound too upbeat about his chances to hold off Lieuwe Westra and he may opt to go easy or not contend at all if that benefits his Ronde-prep best. Such is the reality of the Driedaagse, as good a race as it is some bigs will always have their eyes on bigger prizes. That said, I think Kristoff is greedy and ambitious enough to both contest and win the GC tomorrow.
TOP 10 Stage 2 Dreidaagse De Panne
- Elia Viviani
- Marcel Kittel
- Alexander Kristoff
- Amaury Capiot
- Adrien Petit
TOP 5 GC after Stage 2
- Alexander Kristoff
- Aleksey Lutsenko +5 sec
- Lieuwe Westra + 10 sec
- Mads Pedersen + 43 sec
- Bert Van Lerberghe + 45 sec