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After a big crash had brought Bouhanni down, Van Asbroeck powered to his first victory for LottoNL-Jumbo in the bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes; the Belgian is the new leader

Photo: LottoNL-Jumbo

MANUEL BELLETTI

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TEAM JUMBO-VISMA

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TOM VAN ASBROECK

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TOUR DU POITOU-CHARENTES

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24.08.2016 @ 18:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After almost two years in the team, Tom Van Asbroeck took his first win for LottoNL-Jumbo when he came out on top in a crash-marred bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes. After race leader Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) had hit the deck, he turned out to be the fastest as he held off Manuel Belletti (Wilier) and Marco Benfatto (Androni). The win was enough to move him into the overall lead.

 

After a very meagre 2014 season, LottoNL-Jumbo wanted to significantly increase their tally in 2015. For that purpose, they put more emphasis on the sprints and one of their plans was to sign some fast guys. With two victories in 2014, Tom Van Asbroeck was an obvious choice and the Belgian got his chance at the WorldTour level.

 

However, the first time at LottoNL-Jumbo hasn’t been great for the talented Belgian who has slipped down the hierarchy due to the emergence of Dylan Groenewegen and the consistency of Moreno Hofland. Hence, he has become more of a lead-out man but he still gets his chance in some of the smaller races.

 

Van Asbroeck has got one of them in this week’s Tour du Poitou-Charentes which is usually a festival for the fast guys and so has attracted a strong field of sprinters. Today the Belgian proved that he is still very fast in a sprint as he turned out to be the best in the big bunch kick on the second stage. A big crash brought down race leader Nacer Bouhanni but Van Asbroeck came out of the carnage unscathed and managed to beat everybody to take his first win in LottoNL-Jumbo colours.

 

After yesterday’s first sprint stage, the terrain was not much harder on stage 2 where the peloton covered 179.8km between La Rochelle and Niort. There were two small climbs – 1km at 4% and 400m at 5% - but the final ascent came with 56.1km to go. The stage ended with two laps of a flat 22.1km circuit in Niort.

 

Like yesterday, it was very hot when the riders gathered for the start but that did not stop the many attackers. Like yesterday, it was a very fast start with numerous but nonetheless the break was established very early. After just a few kilometres, Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortunéo - Vital Concept), Thierry Hupond (Delko-Marseille-Provence-KTM), Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and Felix Pouilly (Roubaix Lille Métropole) had an advantage of 26 seconds and at the 8km mark, the peloton sat up and allowed the quartet to ride away.

 

After 12km of racing, the escapees already had an advantage of 4.15 and this was the signal for Cofidis to hit the front. While the temperature rose to 31 degrees, they kept the gap stable at around 4.30 for a long time, with the entire team gathered on the front.

 

Perichon beat Helven and Hupond in the first intermediate sprint at the 31.1km mark before the peloton crossed the line 3.55 later. At the 45km mark, they had even reduced it to just 3.30. At the same time, Mikel Aristi (Delko) left the race due to illness and Guillaume Levarlet (Auber 93) also gave up in the brutal heat.

 

The gap stayed at 3.30 for several kilometres before Helven beat Hupond and Pouilly in the second intermediate sprint. Moments later, they hit the first climb where Pouilly launched a strong attack. However, he was unable to keep Helven at bay and the Belgian was first across the line, followed by the Roubaix rider and Hupond.

 

Gert Joeaar did the early work for Cofidis, hitting the final 100km 3.25 behind the leaders. He rode pretty fast as the riders averaged 42km/h during the first two hours.

 

Helven and Pouilly sprinted for the points in the final intermediate sprint and it was again the Belgian who took the win. Pouilly was even passed by Hupond and so had to settle for third. Helven was also fastest in the second KOM sprint where he beat Pouilly and Hupond. The peloton reached the top 3.20 later.

 

Helven almost went down in a tricky turn on the descent but managed to stay upright and so pressed on in the 36-degree temperatures. However, it was impossible to keep the peloton at bay as the chase was now organized.

 

With 70km to go, the gap had dropped to 2.45 and ten kilometres later, there was only 1.40 left of the advantage. Meanwhile, the riders desperately tried to stay hydrated in the sizzling heat.

 

Cofidis didn’t get any help in the chase but they didn’t need any. When Helven beat Puilly and Hupond in the final KOM sprint, the French team led the peloton over the top just 1.20 later.

 

The front group hit the circuit with an advantage of just 1.10 and things didn’t get any easier when Direct Energie also started to chase with Thomas Voeckler. Nonetheless, they managed to increase the gap to 1.55 as they crossed the line for the first time.

 

Joeaar and Voeckler shared the pace-setting and managed to increase the pace. As they tackled the first lap of the circuit, they reduced the gap to just 1.10.

 

Things didn’t get any easier for the break when Hupond suffered a puncture and there was no time to waift for the Frenchman. Moments later, the attacking started when Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) and Yonder Godoy (Wilier) tried to bridge the gap. They soon got an advantage of 15 seconds before Pierre Gouault (Auber 93) joined the move. They picked up Hupond and started the final lap with 20 seconds to make up.

 

Shortly after the passage of the line, the four chasers caught the front trio but they were only 20 seconds ahead with 20km to go. Hupond was dropped almost immediately but the six remaining escapees managed to maintain their advantage despite the hard chase from Direct Energie and Bardiani.

 

Bardiani took complete control and kept the gap at 20 seconds. Meanwhile, the front group started to split up when Perichon was dropped.

 

Godoy broke the harmony in the break when he launched a strong attack. Pouilly took off in pursuit but just after the passage of the 10km to go mark, it was all back together.

 

Bardiani kept riding on the front while a few riders tried to attack and it was Patrick Gretsch (Ag2r) who managed to get an advantage of 5 seconds. While Direct Energie took over the pace-setting, Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) bridged the gap as they hit the final 4km.

 

Ventoso and Gretsch were still clear with 2km to go but it was all in vain. The pair was brought back and it all came back together for the expected bunch sprint. Unfortunately, a big crash brought down race leader Bouhanni, Rudy Barbier (Roubaix), Søren Kragh (Giant-Alpecin) and several others and in the chaos it was Van Asbroeck who came out on top. The Belgian beat Manuel Belletti (Wilier) and Marco Benfatto (Androni), with Romain Feillu (Auber 93) and Andrew Fenn (Sky) completing the top 5.

 

With the win, Van Asbroeck takes the race lead, sitting on the same time as yesterday’s winner Bouhanni. He has another chance tomorrow morning when the riders will tackle a short, flat stage that ends with a 16.7km circuit. However, he won’t be in the lead in the evening as the riders face the flat 23km time trial in the afternoon, a stage which is very likely to determine the final GC.

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