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Positioned perfectly on Greipel’s wheel, Viviani easily passed the fading German and held off van Poppel and Drucker to win the first stage of the Eneco Tour; the Italian took the overall lead

Photo: Dubai Tour

BENELUX TOUR

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DANNY VAN POPPEL

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ELIA VIVIANI

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JEAN PIERRE DRUCKER

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TEAM SKY

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10.08.2015 @ 17:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Elia Viviani (Sky) got the best possible start to the second part of his season when he came out on top in the high-level bunch sprint on the first stage of the Eneco Tour. In a very confusing sprint, he positioned himself on André Greipel’s wheel and when the German started to fade, he easily passed his rival and held off Danny van Poppel (Trek) and Jempy Drucker (BMC) to take both the victory and the white leader’s jersey.

 

Going into this season, Sky made it clear that they wanted to be a force to be reckoned with in the bunch sprints and the rider given the task to lead them in the fast finales was new signing Elia Viviani. The new plan has been highly successful as the Italian has managed to claim a number of important victories.

 

Most notably he won the first sprint stage at the Giro d’Italia to save what was otherwise a mediocre race for the Italian team. Since then he has been recovering for the second part of the year where he is expected to lead the British team in the many sprint one-day races during the autumn.

 

Viviani made his return to competition in the RideLondon Classic where he never got the chance to sprint but today he proved that he is back on form when he took a beautiful sprint win on the first stage of the Eneco Tour. In what is one of the best sprint fields of the entire season, the Italian did everything right to position himself on the wheel of pre-stage favourite André Greipel whom he easily beat.

 

The organizers had hoped for a windy day in the Netherlands but with nice conditions, it was no surprise that it all came down to the expected bunch sprint. Sky showed their intentions and with 10km to go, they had lined out Danny Pate, Bernhard Eisel, Ian Stannard, Chris Sutton, Andy Fenn and Viviani on the front.

 

While Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) worked his way back from a puncture, Eisel and Pate traded pulls on the front and got some respite when a Topsport rider took a turn. Meanwhile, their rival lead-out trains were scrambling for position and it was Lotto Soudal who lined up next to the Brits, with Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot setting the pace.

 

Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) slid out in a roundabout with 6km to go and had to fight hard to rejoin the peloton which was again led by Eisel. BMC, LottoNL-Jumbo and Lotto Soudal moved up next to them until Lotto Soudal hit the front as they reached the 4.6km finishing straight.

 

Sky managed to pass the Belgians as Stannard and Sutton both took massive turns. David Tanner (IAM) gave them a short chance to recover before Fenn led Viviani to the front positions with 2km to go.

 

Lotto Soudal were far back but found an opening on the right-hand side of the road where Marcel Sieberg, Jurgen Roelandts, Greg Henderson, Jens Debusschere and André Greipel sprinted forward. Unfortunately, they lost their sprinter in the process and had to slow down to wait for him.

 

The Belgian team got back on the front with Roelandts and it was Henderson who led the peloton under the red kite. However, Greipel had again lost contact with his teammates and found himself further back.

 

Henderson and Debusschere realized that Greipel was not there and this allowed Etixx-QuickStep to hit the front with three riders. However, they were passed by Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEDGE) who did the lead-out for Magnus Cort.

 

Greipel had latched onto the Dane’s wheel and so was in the perfect position to launch the sprint. He powered down the finishing straight but Viviani had wisely positioned him on his wheel. The Italian easily passed the German and held off the late comebacks of Danny van Poppel and Jempy Drucker while Greipel had to settle for fourth. There was a crash in the finale but as it happened at the flamme rouge, it will have no consequences for the GC.

 

With the win, Viviani takes the overall lead with a four-second advantage over van Poppel and Jesper Asselman (Roompot) who was in the early break. Hence, he will wear the white leader’s jersey which is another flat stage around the city of Breda where the fast finishers are expected to shine.

 

A flat opener

The 11th edition of the Eneco Tour kicked off with a 183.5km stage around the Dutch city of Bolsward. The course was completely flat and made up of three different circuits, with the 20.2km finishing circuit set to be covered twice in the finale. A big part of the stage took place along the coast, meaning that the wind was a potential danger.

 

However, it was a beautiful day with very little wind when the riders gathered for the start. Daniel Oss (BMC) was absent as he was still suffering from the injuries from a recent training crash.

 

The break takes off

With everybody expecting a sprint finish, it was no surprise that the breakaway was established right from the gun when Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin), Laurens De Vreese (Astana), David Boucher (FDJ), Nico Denz (Ag2r), Jesper Asselman (Roompot) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty) attacked. The peloton was in no hurry so the gap had already gone out to three minutes after 6km of racing.

 

At the 21km mar, the gap had gone out to 7.25 and this was the signal for the peloton to up the pace. At the end of the first hour, the gap was still 7.20.

 

The gap comes down

Boucher led the front group across the line after they had completed the first circuit while the peloton followed 7 minutes later. Moments later, Haas beat De Vreese, Asselman, Boucher and Veuchelen in the first Primus sprint.

 

At the 60km mark, the peloton had started to reduce the gap which was down to 5.20. It was kept stable for a while but when the peloton entered the final 100km, they had again accelerated and reduced their deficit to 3.50.

 

A small crash

Entering the final 65km, there was a big alliance between the sprint teams as Nathan Earle (Sky), Stig Broeckx (Lotto Soudal), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Eugenio Alafaci (Trek) were trading pulls on the front. They had already brought the gap down to 2.05 and had the situation under control.

 

With 51km to go, there was a small crash with the likes of Tiesj Benoot, Jonas Van Genechten, Heinrich Haussler, Tom Jelte Slagter and Anthony Geslin but as there was no stress, they easily managed to rejoin the peloton which was now just 1.50 behind. Moments later, De Vreese launched a long sprint in the final Primus sprint but was narrowly passed by Haas. Asselman took third, Veuchelen fourth and Denz fifth.

 

Another crash

The gap was coming down quickly as Tjallingii, Alafaci, Broeckx and Earle continued to ride on the front and when they started the first lap of the finishing circuit, the gap was only 50 seconds. However, the escapees responded well to stabilize the situation and the gap hovered around that mark for most of the first lap.

 

With 28km to go, Enrico Gasparotto, Frederik Backaert and Enrique Sanz went down but they all managed to rejoin the peloton. Meanwhile, the escapees were approaching the golden kilometre which offered three sprints in three kilometres and as the game of cat and mouse started, their gap was melting away.

 

Action at the golden kilometre

Boucher launched an attack 1km from the first sprint but Haas quickly brought him back. Veuchelen was the next to try but instead Haas launched a long sprint. De Vreese passed him and edged out Denz while Asselman passed Haas to take third.

 

Haas refused to give up and went straight to the front where he launched the second sprint. Asselman passed him narrowly while Denz took third.

 

The break splits up

De Vreese had recovered from the first sprint and made an immediate attack which was enough to win the first sprint. Asselman took second and Denz third.

 

Boucher and Veuchelen had not been part of the action and were already back in the peloton which was led by Broeckx and Tjallingii and was just 20 seconds behind. With 18km to go, the ended their work and it was now Sky and IAM lined out on the front with Lars Petter Nordhaug and Reto Hollenstein.

 

The break is caught

Two kilometres later, Sky took complete control with Nordhaug and they brought the four escapees back. Haas briefly made another attack but IAM shut it down with Marcel Aregger and Reto Hollenstein.

 

Dries Devenyns took over for the Swiss team before Nordhaug and Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep) both took turns. Jens Mouris (Orica-GreenEDGE), Pate and Matthias Brändle (IAM) were next to lead in a confusing moment of the race until Sky hit the front with 10km to go, starting the effort that ultimately gave them the win.

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