On a wet, windy, crash-riddled day in the Netherlands, Andrea Guardini (Astana) won the opening stage of the Eneco Tour.
The Italian sprinter survived several crashes inside the final 10 kilometers — including one that saw Lampre’s Sacha Modolo and Orica’s Matt Goss hit the deck — out-sprinting Yohann Gène (Europcar) and Davide Cimolai (Lampre) to take the stage win and GC lead.
“It was difficult today mainly because of the wind, which was there was from the beginning to the end,” Guardini said. “Moreover, no team could control the stage. In the final, there was rain, along with numerous changes of direction, and I fell 30 kilometers from the finish.”
The 181.9km stage of the seven-stage WorldTour race began and finished in Terneuzen.
Three riders escaped early into the stage — Laurens De Vreese (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), and Ken Van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen -
Baloise) — opening a maximum lead of almost nine minutes, 42km into the stage.
That gap steadied at about four minutes as the sprint teams of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Lotto-Belisol, and Giant-Shimano all worked at the front of the peloton.
With 37km to go, echelons formed in the peloton as crosswinds pummeled the peloton. A momentarily split in the bunch caused panic, but minutes later, the main group was back together.
Wet roads, caused by rainfall, caused Smukulis to crash out of the breakaway, and with 17km to go De Vreese and Van Bilsen had also been brought back to the fold.
As the pace ramped up for a field sprint, several riders were shed off the back, including German sprinter Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
More crosswinds saw the peloton split again, and chaos in the bunch, as well as roundabouts and wet roads, brought crash after crash inside the final 15km, including the incident that saw Modolo and Goss down at 10km to go.
Another crash, in a roundabout at 5km to go, saw BMC Racing’s Silvan Dillier on the ground, and another, at 3.7km to go, left Trek’s Danny Von Poppel sliding across the road.
Italian Mirko Selvaggi (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) tried to surprise the sprinters with an attack at 1.5 km to go, but with Giant-Shimano at the front, looking to set up Slovenian Luka Mezgec, that move would ultimately fail.
Giant-Shimano’s Tom Dumoulin put in a powerful bid for glory with a solo attack under the red kite. His chances were slim with a headwind finish but he put up a strong fight and with a few hundred metres looked like he might pull it off. In the final 100m he was swept up by the sprinters, eventually finishing seventh. Dumoulin is bidding for a strong overall position after finishing the race in second place last year.
“In the final 10km I looked around and saw chaos and tired faces so decided that if the chance came I would try my luck and attack in the final kilometers,” Dumoulin said. “The chance came but unfortunately it didn’t work.
“When I was out front I never thought that I had it and I knew that it was going to be close but I kept on hoping that I could hold on and make it. My preparation for the race has been a mixture of resting, criteriums and also some endurance but I am feeling strong and looking forward to the rest of the race.”
In the end, Guardini took a chaotic sprint, ahead of Gène (Europcar), for the win and the GC leadership.
“In the last 200 meters I launched my sprint and I brought back Dumoulin,” Guardini said. “He was really strong and he did a beautiful attack.”
After the stage, Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar commented on the general dangers of the day’s racing, writing on Twitter, “Stage 1 of Eneco Tour complete. Slid, bounced, dodged, jumped, evaded, yet somehow, miraculously, didn’t crash. I’m treating this as a win.”
The Eneco Tour runs through August 17th. The race includes two flat stages, a 16.1km ITT, and four hilly stages.