Overall Ambitions Intact Following Opening Stage of De PanneTue 1 Apr 2014
Harbouring general classification ambitions, Luke Durbridge was the top-finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE on the opening day of Driedaagse De Panne. Twice in the top ten overall out of two starts in De Panne, Durbridge’s hopes to improve upon his previous results – seventh the last two years – remain intact following an aggressive, animated finale which saw Peter Sagan (Cannondale) lead home a group of 11 riders.
Although Durbridge missed the race winning move on the Eikenmolen just inside the final ten kilometres, he was able to jump from the bunch in pursuit of the stage favourite. With Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr) for company, Durbridge got within 4” of the leaders before the gap stretched out slightly again ahead of the line Slotting into 13th place, Durbridge lost 11” on the likes of Sagan, Oscar Gatto (Cannondale), Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) and Niki Terpstra but put 9” into the peloton that stopped the clock at 19”.
“The plan today was to keep Durbo in a good position so we could go for him in the overall,” said Sport Director Laurenzo Lapage. “Let’s say that worked at about 80 percent. He’s still in a position where he can go for a podium. The first and last stages are usually the most important for the overall in the end.”
A fast start to stage one prevented the early break from taking shape until nearly halfway into the second hour of racing. Seventy kilometres from the finish, the peloton finally relented. Five riders slipped up the road, joined by a sixth several kilometres later. The escape group built up a maximum advantage of 4’15 at the mid-point of the race before FDJ.fr assumed position at the front of the bunch and began to chase.
When Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol) attacked on the Tenbosse, Mathew Hayman latched onto Ligthart’s wheel. The duo bridged across as collaboration in the original break waned. By the time Hayman and Ligthart reached the leaders after 22 kilometres of chasing, attacks had begun in the peloton.
“We intended to be quite active in the last 40 kilometres,” Sport Director Matt Wilson said. “We’ve all raced here before, so we know quite well that this race suits an aggressive style of rider. We wanted to have guys go on the attack and make sure we had guys in the front for the finish. Hayman’s attack was part of this plan.”
As the peloton closed in on the leaders over the hills around Zottegem, the break began to splinter. Twenty kilometres from the finish Hayman soon found himself back in the bunch. The rest of his breakaway companions eventually joined him.
High speeds and crashes caused repeated splits and regroupings amongst the nervous peloton. An attack from Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) on the Leberg forced a new group clear on the Langendries. By that time, Cannondale had come to the front, setting up Sagan and Oscar Gatto (Cannondale) to lead a contingent across to the leaders. Inside the final ten kilometres, the move had all the marks of the winning breakaway.
“We knew there was going to be a big attack coming from Sagan or Quick-Step,” said Wilson. “That’s the move we wanted to go with. Durbo was in a pretty good position when they attacked on the Eikenmolen. He was just a little too far back, and the road was blocked.”
“They got an immediate gap,” Wilson continued. “By the time he could go, they already had 10” on him. Demare came with when he jumped away, and they worked really well together. They got within 4”, so they came really, really close, but the guys at the front never let up.”
“Today was a pretty good day for the team,” added Wilson. “We identified Terpstra as the big danger in the tour, and we didn’t want to give him any seconds going into the time trial. We knew it would be difficult for Durbo to beat Terpstra if he started with any sort of advantage from bonus seconds.”
“By that account, today wasn’t fantastic,” Wilson admitted.”But at the same time, Durbo did a great job trying to get across, and he got time on the rest of the bunch in the end, which was really good. He’s in a good position for the sort of result we want if he has a good time trial on Thursday.”