Mark Cavendish won stage 2 of the VDK Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne) on Wednesday in Koksijde, Belgium. Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took a difficult sprint in the wind over Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and Francesco Chicchi (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) at the end of the 204-kilometer romp from Oudenaarde to the coastal town of Koksijde.
“I didn’t want to go. I just sat there, waiting, waiting, waiting,” said Cavendish. “As normal in a headwind, I didn’t kick out full gas. I just kept accelerating, kept accelerating.”
Tuesday’s runner-up, Arnaud Démare (FDJ), finished fourth on the stage and assumed the lead in the general classification.
The day’s long escapees, Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthcare), Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana), and Koen Barbé (Crelan-Euphony), held an advantage of 1:22 with 25km to go. After an earlier split that caught out a number of GC contenders, the peloton was back together as it barreled toward the North Sea.
Orica-GreenEdge led the peloton through the streets of Koksijde, across four laps of an 11.7km finishing circuit.
With help from Lotto-Belisol, working for André Greipel, the Aussie squad nipped away at the trio’s advantage and with 15km remaining, they held just 38 seconds. The pace continued to lift and a number of riders, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), dropped off the back of a thinning peloton.
Greipel and Cavendish were each in the peloton as it bent around the circuit’s final corner for the bell lap, the leaders in view. The gap was just 14 seconds with 12km to go. Overall leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Belgian champion Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma) were there as well.
Gruzdev surged a kilometer into the final lap, dropping Barbé, and the leaders were two, with just nine seconds.
With 10km to go, the battle for the point of the bunch began in earnest. Europcar and Lampre-Merida each pressed forward. With 9km to go, Bazzana was back in the peloton, but Gruzdev pressed on, looking over his shoulder at the bunch. With 8km to go, the race was all together, Boonen and Omega Pharma sitting around 10th wheel.
Sagan drifted back out of the group with 7km remaining and Boonen drove his Belgian squad to the head of the race. The Belgian champion took to the front of the race and pushed hard. Behind him, Stijn Vandenbergh, Gert Steegmans, Iljo Keisse, Niki Terpstra, and Mark Cavendish lined up for the finale. Boonen pulled off at 5km to go after a big dig that split dozens of riders off the back of the peloton.
Greipel, Milano-Sanremo winner Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka), and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) were still there. Steegmans pulled off the front with 3km to go, leaving the work to Iljo Keisse, with Cavendish three wheels behind him.
Astana and Lotto fought for positioning alongside Omega Pharma, but Keisse drove a wedge behind Cavendish and Chicchi, splitting the front of the race.
“Guys just had to go long. It was the wind. We just wanted to keep it lined out in that last big road,” said Cavendish. “Iljo and Niki did big, big, long pulls. … I’m proud of them; they did good.”
The four riders pushed out a 30-meter advantage heading into the finish straight, but Lotto closed the gap and opened the sprint.
Terpstra kicked onto the finish straight, Cavendish in his wheel. Greipel, Chicchi, and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) each went, but Cavendish was patient and accelerated through the line for the stage win.
Cavendish said that he wasn’t certain he’d even contest the finish earlier in the day.
“I didn’t feel that great actually earlier on in the day,” said Cavendish. “We talked this morning about doing what we can to dig in for a bunch sprint. Halfway through I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it today.’ I didn’t feel great, but as the finish grew near we just kind of got to the front. It wasn’t even spoken about. We were just doing it, like we were going for the sprint.”
The Three Days of De Panne concludes Thursday with the 109km stage 3a around De Panne and the 14.75km stage 3b time trial from De Panne to Koksijde.