Another Crash-Filled Finale at Paris-Nice

Mon 10 Mar 2014

Jens Keukeleire was the best-placed rider for ORICA-GreenEDGE on another crashed-filled stage of Paris-Nice. The Australian outfit had planned to support Michael Matthews in the stage two finale until a pile-up forced a change in plans ten kilometres from the finish in Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche.

Moreno Hofland (Belkin) won the sprint ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and race leader Nacer Bouhanni ( Keukeleire sprinted in for ninth. Matthews was the final rider to finish the stage, 9’16 behind Hofland.

“We were trying to set up the stage for Bling [Michael Matthews] today,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “We had no interest in the break at all. We were happy to let a group go, but we weren’t going to ride. There were plenty of other teams to take responsibility for the chase.”

“Everything was going perfectly to plan until things went sideways with 12 or 13 kilometres to go,” said McPartland. “Someone came underneath Bling and the crash caused a big chain reaction. Heaps of guys went down, and Bling was one of the worst off. He seems to have come away without being too badly injured, but it was enough to take him completely out contention for the stage. We had to change plans on the fly and work for Jens in the end.”

A calm start belied the chaos that was to follow. Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché) and Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling) broke away from the bunch from the gun. The duo gained nearly 12 minutes on the peloton before worked their way to the front to begin the chase. Their work brought the gap down to 7’30, at which point teams with an interest in the sprint began their work. When ORICA-GreenEDGE came to fore inside the final 20 kilometres, the break’s advantage had dwindled to 2’10.

“We moved to the front before the breakaway was caught to keep the guys safe and out of trouble,” said McPartland. “That was our first hint at setting things up for Bling in the finish.”

“In hindsight, after missing out on the chance to sprint yesterday, we knew were probably out of position,” McPartland admitted. “The crash ultimately ruined our chances yesterday, but if we had been closer to the front, we wouldn’t have been involved. We were in position today. We talked about how we needed to ride closer to the front, and the guys were there. It was bloody bad luck.”

Matthews wasn’t the only rider to miss out. Lars Boom (Belkin), Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Edvald Boasson Hagen also harbour stage ambitions only to find themselves on the floor and out of contention for the day. As the peloton continued to close in on the two leaders, Meersman was amongst the fallers who fostered hope of making it back to the bunch. Matthews was decidedly slower to make his way back on the bike. Battered and bruised after two crashes in two days, he was content to make it to the finish at his own pace.

“The guys didn’t know how bad it was with Bling at first,” said McPartland. “They were ready and waiting for the call over the radio to go back and get him. It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that Bling was no good for the finish. There was no use in having anyone drop back. That’s when we adjusted the plan and told them they were riding for Jens.”

The peloton overtook Delaplace seven kilometres from the finish. Another four kilometre later, they had closed in on Saramotins. A collection of sprint teams jostled for control at the front.

“The guys said it was really crazy in the sprint,” said McPartland. “The racing was choppy. No one team had control, and it made things really dangerous. The guys did the best they could with the new plan, but they also wanted to stay out of trouble – and there was a high potential for trouble in the sprint.”

“During the first two stages, we’ve been forced to alter our plan close to the finish because we’ve been involved in significant crashes,” McPartland added. “It’s been bad luck two days in a row. As long as no one is seriously injured, crashes don’t take away from morale. If anything, it just makes us more hungry for a win.”