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With a powerful sprint, Boonen came off Demare’s wheel and held off the French champion to win stage 2 of the Tour of Belgium; Brändle survived a late scare and defended his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

ARNAUD DEMARE

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BELGIUM TOUR

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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IAM CYCLING

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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MATTHIAS BRÄNDLE

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28.05.2015 @ 18:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a disastrous spring season, Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) finally returned to his winning ways when he repeated last year’s victory in the uphill sprint in Knokke-Heist to win stage 2 of the Tour of Belgium. Coming off Arnaud Demare’s (FDJ) wheel, he held off the French champion and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) to take his first win of the season while Matthias Brändle survived a late scare to defend his overall victory.

 

In January and February, everything was on track for Tom Boonen to return to his classics glory and even though he failed to clock up his usual wins in the Tour of Qatar, he was confident that he would be at his best in the big races on the cobbles. However, it all came to nothing when he injured his shoulder in Paris-Nice and he had to watch his favourite races from the sidelines.

 

Since then Boonen has gone through a long recovery before he returned to racing in the Tour of Turkey. He used the Giro d’Italia to further build his condition and even though he was never a contender in the bunch sprint, he came strongly out of the Italian grand tour which he left after two weeks.

 

The UCI granted him a permission to start the Tour of Belgium where he hoped to repeat last year’s success. In 2014, he won two stages and it all started when he won the uphill sprint in Knokke-Heist. After a disappointing performance in the prologue, he finally returned to his winning ways when he repeated that feat in today’s first road stage of the race.

 

However, a major surprise looked possible with 4km to go when Sander Cordeel (Vastgoedservice) had a nice 30-second advantage over the peloton that was led by BMC. This forced the lead-out trains to react earlier than planned and it was FDJ who hit the front with David Boucher.

 

The Belgian led the peloton until 2.8km remained when Etixx-QuickStep started to set things up for Boonen. Julien Vermote was the first to take a big turn and the Belgian team managed to keep their rivals trains at bay for the rest of the race.

 

Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Niki Terpstra were the final riders to swing off but Boonen had realized that it was too early to hit the front. Wisely he had moved onto Arnaud Demare’s wheel and the Frenchman was now given the perfectly lead-out by Mickael Delage.

 

When Delage swung off, Demare started his sprint but it was evident that Boonen was the fastest. The Belgian easily passed the French champion and a fast-finishing Jens Debusschere ran out of metres and so had to settle for third.

 

Race leader Matthias Brändle (IAM) suffered an untimely puncture when the race briefly split in the crosswinds with less than 20km to go but he managed to rejoin the peloton when it again calmed down. Hence, he defended his 2-second advantage over Rohan Dennis (BMC) as he goes into stage 3 which is a mini Tour of Flanders. After a flat first part, the riders will tackle a total of 9 hellingen in the second half. The final challenge is the Berendries which comes with 20km to go and it is expected that a reduced bunch will sprint for the win.

 

A flat stage

After the opening prologue, the sprinters were expected to get a chance to shine in stage 2 which brought the riders over 178.5km from Lochristi to Knokke-Heist. With a completely flat profile, the only factor that could potentially do some damage was the wind but most expected it to come down to a bunch sprint on the uphill finishing straight.

 

The riders had dry and cloudy conditions when they gathered for the start but with a rather strong wind blowing from a westerly direction, there were lots of nervous faces on the start line. They got the stage off to a relatively fast opening phase with lots of attacks before the breakaway was finally formed.

 

IAM take control

When the elastic snapped, 6 riders had made the selection and Benjamin Verraes (Cibel), Dries De Bondt, Christophe Premont (Verandas Willems), Philipp Walsleben (BKCP), Ludwig De Winter (Wallonie) and Sander Cordeel (Vastgoedservice) started to build an advantage. After 20km of racing, they were already 5 minutes ahead of the peloton.

 

IAM took control in the peloton and they allowed the gap to go out to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, De Winter beat Verraes, De Bondt, Cordeel and Walsleben in the first Primus sprint.

 

The gap is stable

IAM started to slowly bring the break back and when they entered the final 75km, the gap was only 3.45. At this point, Walsleben surprised his breakaway companions by launching a small attack to win the second Primus sprint, with Verraes, De Bondt, Premont and De Winter picking up the minor points.

 

The gap went back out to four minutes before IAM again accelerated. As they crossed the finish line for the first time with around 60km to go, they had reduced their deficit to 3.30.

 

Lotto Soudal come to the fore

Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep) went down in a solo crash but he managed to rejoin the peloton. A little later, the escapees contested the final Primus sprint where several riders tried to anticipate the faster riders. In the end, it was De Bondt who won the sprint ahead of Verraes, Walsleben, Premont and De Winter.

 

The two teammates De Bondt and Premont tried to make an attack but the group quickly came back together. As they again started to work together, Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal) came to the fore in the peloton where he started to trade pulls with the IAM rders.

 

Cordeel shines in the Golden Kilometre

Dockx’s efforts didn’t really pay off and as Lotto Soudal and IAM did not get any help, the gap was still 2.30 when they started the final lap of the 30km finishing circuit. However, the windy conditions made for some nervous racing and there was a constant fight for position.

 

As the riders got to the Golden Kilometre with 25km to go where the riders faced three intermediate sprints within a single kilomtre, the gap was still 2.10 and here Cordeel launched a solo attack to ride the entire kilometre as the lone leader and win all the sprints. After the final one, he waited for his companions and the group again started to cooperate. Verraes was second in all sprint while De Winter was third in the first two sprints and Premont was third in the final one.

 

Etixx-QuickStep try to split the field

Verandas Willems started to work with Lotto Soudal while IAM disappeared from the front but now the fight for position had really intensified. Etixx-QuickStep and 3M both took turns on the front as they all wanted to stay safe in case the group would split.

 

With 20km to go, the gap was 1.55 and now Etixx-QuickStep tried to split the peloton in the crosswinds. Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra took some huge turns on the front and this made the peloton explode into several groups.

 

Disaster for Brändle

At this point, disaster struck for Matthias Brändle as he suffered a puncture at the worst possible moment. Having received a wheel from a teammate, he started a long chase but it looked like an impossible mission as Astana were now working hard in the first peloton.

 

Brändle was lucky that the situation calmed down and he managed to rejoin the peloton with 18km to go when a regrouping had taken place. Verandas Willems and Lotto Soudal were now leading the chase, 1.30 behind the escapees.

 

Lotto Soudal take control

Thomas De Gendt and Dockx took some huge turns for Lotto Soudal and now Astana also came to the fore. Those two teams worked well together and as they entered the final 10km, they had brought the gap down to 55 seconds. At this point, Lotto Soudal had bad luck as Tiesj Benoot had to spend a lot of energy to rejoin the peloton after a puncture.

 

Now Etixx-QuickStep and LottoNL-Jumbo again tried to attack in the crosswinds and this made it hard for the young Belgian to rejoin the peloton. However, he was greatly assisted by the fact that the wind was not suitable to attacks and so BMC took control with Dylan Teuns and Michael Schär, allowing him to get back to the bunch.

 

At this point, Cordeel had finally had enough company and he launched a big attack. Walsleben was distanced immediately while Verraes, De Bondt, De Winter and Premont tried to rejoin the Belgian. However, it was mission impossible and with 4km to go, they were brought back. At this point, the strong Cordeel still had an advantage of 30 seconds but moments later FDJ took control and set the scene for the bunch sprint where Boonen came out on top.

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