A few weeks after leaving the Giro d’Italia prematurely, André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) proved that he is still in great condition when he won the first road stage of the Tour de Luxembourg. After a splendid lead-out, the German beat Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) and Daniele Ratto (Unitedhealthcare) in a bunch sprint and also took the overall lead in the five-day race.
With four stage wins, André Greipel has always had a great relationships with the Tour de Luxembourg which has been a happy hunting ground for the fast German. This year he is back in the f-day race to try to extend his winning tally but in 2015 the circumstances are different than usual.
Greipel has usually used the Tour of Belgium and Tour de Luxembourg to get back to competition after a short post-classics break but this year he has had a different race schedule. Instead of the Belgian race, he has been riding two weeks of the Giro d’Italia which he left with on stage week in his pocket.
Greipel has had no chance to rest after the Giro as he aims to be at his best for the Tour de France and again the Luxembourgish race forms a key part of his preparation. Already yesterday he showed that he has not skipped any training when he finished 11th in the prologue and today he continued his great showing by winning the first road stage.
With only six smaller climbs and a flat finishing circuit on the menu, the stage was always likely to come down to a bunch sprint and with Greipel being the star sprinter of the race, it was no surprise that Lotto Soudal shared the chasing duties with the Cofidis team of race leader Adrien Petit. With 5km to go, the last survivor from the early break, Matthew Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka) was brought back and from there it was Lotto Soudal all over the place.
With Marcel Sieberg, Jens Debusschere and Greg Henderson at his side, Greipel is supported by the lead-out train that is expected to deliver him to more success in the Tour de France. With that kind of firepower, it was no surprise that they managed to dominate the finale and deliver their fast German to another sprint win. Enrico Gasparotto and Daniele Ratto completed the podium.
Greipel only lost 9 seconds to Petit in the prologue and as the Frenchman failed to score any bonus seconds and the German picked up 10 seconds for his win, he also takes the overall lead. He now leads Petit by 1 second.
He will try to defend that lead in tomorrow’s second stage which is significantly harder than the opening road stage. After an easier first half with just three climbs, they will go up another climb before they get to the 37.8km finishing circuit that includes a total of three categorized climbs. Doing most of a full lap, the riders will tackle two of those before they cross the finish line and end the stage by doing a complete lap. The final climb summits with 10.5km to go, meaning that a late attack could make it to the finish or the stage could be decided in a reduced bunch sprint.
The longest stage
After the opening prologue, the Tour de Luxembourg riders tackled the longest stage of the race which brought them over 212.6km from Luxembourg to Clemency. After a flat start, the riders got to a hillier middle section with a total of six categorized climbs. The final challenge summited 54.2km from the finish and as the stage ended with two laps of a mostly flat 14.2km finishing circuit, a bunch sprint was expected.
It was a beautiful sunny day when the riders gathered in Luxembourg for the first road stage of the race. All riders who tackled the explosive start were present as they headed out into the neutral zone.
The break is formed
With a bunch sprint being the expected outcome, it was no surprise that it didn’t take long time for the early break to be formed. After a few attacks, Matt Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka), Tom Devriendt (Wanty), Mike Terpstra (Roompot), Federico Zurlo (Unitedhealthcare), Pit Schlechter (Leopard) and Rick Ampler (Differdange) got clear and they already had a 2-minute advantage after just 5km of racing.
Cofidis quickly took control but they still allowed the gap to grow steadily. At the 16km mark, it was 4.45 and when Devriendt won the first KOM sprint ahead of Zurlo, Schlechter and Terpstra after 29km of racing, it was 5.15.
Cofidis up the pace
The gap reached a maximum of 6.25 before Cofidis upped the pace and when Devriendt beat Zurlo and Ampler in the second KOM sprint, it had been reduced to 4.34. For a long time, Cofidis kept it stable betwenn the 4.00 and 4.30 marks.
Devriendt was faster than Schlechter and Terpstra in the third KOM sprint but his dominance was broken in the fourth sprint where he was beaten into second by Zurlo. Moments later, they passed through the feed zone with an advantage of 4 minutes.
Lotto Soudal come to the fore
The gap was now coming down slightly and when the escapees entered the final 100km, they only had an advantage of 3.38. When Zurlo beat Devriendt and Terpstra in the first intermediate sprint at the 138km mark, it was only 2.45.
The peloton slowed down to allow the gap to go out to 3.28 before Devriendt beat Terpstra, Schlechter and Brammeier in the third and final KOM sprint. At this point, the peloton had decided to start the chase for real and the gap was down to 1.40 as Lotto Soudal were now working with Cofidis.
The break splits up
The advantage came down to 1.40 but the escapees responded well to bring it back up to 2 minutes. However, they had no chance against the speeding peloton and when they entered the finishing circuit, their advantage had been reduced to 1.45.
Zurlo beat Devriendt and Terpstra in the second intermediate sprint just after the first passage of the finish line and moments later the break started to disintegrate. Ampler was the first to get distanced from and moments later Devriendt also had to surrender before Zurlo was the third rider to let his companions go.
The break is caught
Schlechter, Brammeier and Terpstra managed to extend their advantage from 1.05 to 1.58 when they passed the 18km to go mark. When Brammeier beat Terpstra and Schlechter in the final intermediate sprint at the start of the final lap, they were still 1.39 ahead and it seemed that they could potentially make a surprise.
However, the peloton always had everything under control and even a last-minute effort by Brammeier was unsuccessful. With 5km to go, it was all back together and as Lotto Soudal took control, all was set for another Greipel win in Luxembourg
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