Aidis Kruopis won the opening stage of the Tour de Poitou Charentes. By outkicking his rivals in the Royan field sprint, Kruopis took his third win of the season and the first of two victories for ORICA-GreenEDGE on Tuesday.
“I had a perfect lead out from Jens [Keukeleire] and Leigh [Howard],” said Kruopis. “Jens took over with one kilometer to go, and Leigh was the last rider in front of me. He dropped me off, and I sprinted to the line. It was a hard sprint because of a headwind, and I thought someone might pass me but nobody was close on the line.”
A three rider break dominated the early action. The trio gained a maximum of eight minutes over the field. FDJ-Big Mat took control of the chase.
“We had Tomas Vaitkus come to the front and help FDJ bring back the break,” explained Sports Director Lionel Marie. “We had him work until we hit the feed-zone. I didn’t ask for more from him than that because he is still recovering from a knee injury.”
While Vaitkus contributed to the chase, Kruopis stayed tucked in the bunch.
“It was a hot day and very lumpy, but it wasn’t a problem to get to the finish,” explained Kruopis. “I drank as much as I could and saved all my energy for the sprint.”
By the final ten kilometers, the escape group had rejoined the bunch, and ORICA-GreenEDGE began to line up for the sprint.
“Jens knew the finish,” explained Marie. “He raced here two years ago, and this finish was included then. That’s why we had him take charge of our sprint in the last kilometer. All three riders gave their maximum. Aidis finished off their effort and arrived two bike lengths ahead of everyone else. He made it look easy. It was a perfect day for us. We did our work, and we finished first.”
With the stage win, Kruopis becomes the first race leader of the 26th edition of the Tour de Poitou Charentes. With time bonuses at intermediate sprints and the finish, Kruopis has a narrow advantage over Thomas Vaubourzeix (La Pomme-Marseille), who spent the stage in the break.
“Aidis leads by one second over Vaubourzeix and by four seconds over two other riders,” explained Marie. “We’ll see tomorrow if he can keep the lead, but it’s no problem if not. We said we wanted to win a sprint stage, and we did that today. We’re also here for the time trial and the general classification, so hopefully we can get the jersey back later if it goes to someone else tomorrow.”