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Having just taken two stage wins in the Tour of Denmark, Guardini won a very confusing first stage of the Eneco Tour by easily holding off Gene and Cimolai to become the first leader of the WorldTour race











11.08.2014 @ 17:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Having just won two stages of the Tour of Denmark, Andrea Guardini (Astana) confirmed his excellent condition when he powered clear of his rivals to take a dominant win in a very confusing bunch sprint on the first stage of the Eneco Tour. By launching a strong sprint, he managed to pass Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) who had made a late attack, and held off Yohann Gene (Europcar) and Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) to take his first WorldTour win for Astana and become the first leader of the race.


Less than a week ago, Andrea Guardini had not won a single race in Europe since he joined Astana at the start of 2014 season. However, two stage wins in the Tour of Denmark last week have built some momentum for the Italian who seems to be unstoppable at the moment.


Having arrived straight from the Danish race which finished yesterday, Guardini took the biggest win since he beat Mark Cavendish in a sprint in the 2012 Giro when he won a very confusing first bunch sprint of the Eneco Tour. While all the other big sprinters seemed to be completely out of position as no one managed to organize a good lead-out, the Italian was a constant presence near the front and when it came to the actual sprint, he was in a class of his own.


The sprint came at the end of a very nervous day where strong winds and brief rain made the peloton very nervous and made the race very hard. With all the big teams wanting to stay near the front, it was a stressful day but despite some attempts that briefly split the peloton, it was a largely intact peloton that approached the finish.


Lotto Belisol took control in a quest to set up André Greipel for the win but the Belgian team ran out of power too early. Instead, Giant-Shimano took over and it seemed that they would make their usual flawless lead-out.


However, they had different plans and suddenly opened a gap behind their GC rider Tom Dumoulin who was riding on the front. The Dutchman quickly got a big gap and as he was inside the final kilometre, he seemed to be taking the win.


FDJ briefly chased but it was the strong turn by Guardini’s lead-out man Borutz Bozic who made the difference. Having got closer to Dumoulin, Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) launched a long sprint and when he was passed by Yohann Gene, Guardini had latched onto the Frenchman’s wheel.


From here, he dropped the hammer and easily powered clear of his rivals before passing Dumoulin less than 100m from the line. The Italian had plenty of time to celebrate his win while Gene and Davide Cimolai rolled across to line to complete the podium.


With the 10 bonus seconds, Guardini is of course also the first leader of the race and goes into stage two with a 4-second lead over Gene. With the second day offering another completely flat route, the in-form Italian has a great chance of defending and possibly extending his lead.


A flat, windy opener

The 10th edition of the Eneco Tour kicked off with a 181.9km stage around the Dutch city of Terneuzen in the usually very windy Zeeland province. The course was made up of three different circuits of which one would be covered twice and the terrain was always completely flat. As strong winds were forecasted, however, there was a chance that things could split up.


The weather forecasts may have predicted rain but the riders took the start in dry conditions. One rider didn’t sign in as Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) had fallen ill and had to forfeit his participation.


The break is formed

With most expecting the sprint teams to control the stage firmly, it was no surprise that there was no big fight in the early part of the stage. Laurens De Vreese (Wanty) attacked almost straight from the gun while Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Kenneth Vanbilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen) took off in pursuit.


The two chasers bridged the gap and after 18km of racing, the front trio was 1.08 ahead. In the first part, the peloton had been pretty nervous but now they allowed themselves to take a breather which caused the gap to go up.


Smukulis attacks

At the 26km mark, the escapees were a massive 8.25 ahead and at this point, the escapees contested the first sprint. De Vreese emerged as the fastest, beating Smukulis and Vanbilsen into the minor positions.


With 112km to go, Smukulis made a surprise attack and he stayed clear for a little while. However, his Belgian companions managed to rejoin him but the Latvian had got his reward as he had one the first Checkpoint sprint ahead Vanbilsen and De Vreese.


Lotto and OPQS in control

With 100km to go, the gap had come down to 6.20 as Lotto Belisol and FDJ had now started to chase, working for the sprinters André Greipel and Nacer Bouhanni respectively. The two teams worked to keep the gap stable and with 65km to go, it was still 5.00.


FDJ had now stopped their work and instead OPQS had joined Lotto Belisol on the front. While there was a pretty calm atmosphere in the peloton, Gert Dockx (Lotto) and Iljo Keisse (OPQS) traded pulls on the front.


Splits in the crosswinds

Vanbilsen narrowly held off De Vreese in the second Checkpoint sprint after they had done what looked like a track sprint. At this point, the gap had come down to 4.05 and now things were starting to get a bit more nervous in the peloton.


With 40km to go, David Boucher (FDJ) took a turn on the front but it was Sky that tried to split things in the crosswinds. Luke Rowe, Christian Knees and Ian Stannard took some huge turns while a big group with Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin) got tailed off.


Trek take control

With the gap down to 2.00, Sky stopped their attack which allowed the second group to rejoin them. However, the nervousness was still very visible as Sky went back to the front with Knees, Stannard and Row.


Trek took over the pace-setting as Danilo Hondo, Fabian Cancellara and the Van Poppel brothers tried to split things but the wind was not strong enough. Meanwhile, the escapees contested the second intermediate sprint which was easily won by Smukulis as he was the only one showing any interest in the points and bonus second.


Lots of attacks

Orica-GreenEDGE took over the pace-setting with Mathew Hayman but when they stopped, the pace went down. Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Leigh Howard (Orica), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Matti Breschel (Tinkoff) launched a brief attack but things came back together.


As the peloton slowed down, Knees launched an attack and suddenly a big group had been created around the former German champion. Daniel Oss, Alex Dowsett, Tim Wellens, Maarten Wynants, Pavel Brutt, Matteo Trentin, Nathan Haas, Tom Veelers, Bozic, Ivan Rovny and Dumoulin were all part of the move.


Back together

Unfortunately, Smukulis crashed in a slippery turn and fell back to that big group where Trentin and Dowsett were riding hard on the front. Moments, later Trentin made a solo attack before being joined by Brutt and Knees.


The trio caught De Vreese and Vanbilsen but when Wellens and Smukulis had bridged the gap, hard work by Trek had brought everything back together,


OPQS ride on the front

OPQS started to work hard with Gert Steegmans and Julien Vermote and with a bit of assistance from Tinkoff-Saxo, they managed to split the group in the crosswinds. Steegmans was doing a lot of work while everybody was fighting hard for position.


A big crash brought down Sacha Modolo (Lampre) and Matthew Goss (Orica) and now Trek had hit the front. Cancellara took a massive turn before he was passed by Jose Ivan Gutierrez who wanted to set up Dowsett for the final intermediate sprint.


Bonus seconds for Boom

The Brit was beaten by Lars Boom (Belkin) while Philippe Gilbert (BMC) took the final second on offer. His BMC team took over the pace-setting before being by Orica-GreenEDGE.


Trek again hit the front with Danilo Hondo but when Danny Van Poppel slid out in a turn, the team stopped their work. Breschel exploited the situation to attack but was shut down by Lotto who had now started their lead-out.


Lotto take control

Tim Wellens and Stig Broeckx both took a few turns while Mirko Selvaggi (Wanty) launched an attacked. Dowsett set off in pursuit but they started to lose ground when Giant hit the front.


Just before the flamme rouge, they opened a gap to Dumoulin who flew past Dowsett and Selvaggi. For some time, Giant managed to block the chase until FDJ hit the front. That’s when Bozic hit the front and his strong turn was later rewarded when Guardini powered clear to take a beautiful sprint win



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