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After Lotto Soudal had controlled the race in the finale, van der Sande took his first pro win in a reduced bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Tour de l’Ain; Schwarzmann and Turgis completed the podium and Trentin retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti












11.08.2016 @ 17:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) finally took what seems to be a long overdue first pro victory when he came out on top in a reduced bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Tour de l’Ain. The Belgian emerged as the fastest after his teammates had controlled the final 20km and managed to hold off Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Argon 18) and Antony Turgis (Cofidis) in the final dash to the line. Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep) had to settle for seventh but it was enough to retain the lead on a countback.


In 2011, Tosh van der Sande won the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and was hailed as one of the biggest Belgian talents. With his good climbing skills and fast sprint, he was expected to become a leading figure in the Ardennes classics and in reduced bunch sprints.


Van der Sande turned pro with Lotto Belisol for the 2012 season but during his first four years in the WorldTour he has failed to win a single race. At the end of 2014, he got close when he finished second in Primus Classic but he disappeared into a domestique role in the team with so many great sprinters.


Things started to change at last year’s Vuelta where van der Sande had the role as lead sprinter and he got close to victory on several occasions, most notably with a  third place. He came out of the race in great form and a few weeks later he nearly won the Paris-Tours classic, taking second behind Matteo Trentin.


Today van der Sande finally got his first pro win and revenge over Trentin as he beat the Italian and the rest of the field in the reduced bunch sprint at the end of the tough second stage of the Tour de l’Ain. The win came at the perfect time for van der Sande who is again expected to lead Lotto Soudal in the sprints at the Vuelta a Espana.


After yesterday’s sprint stage, there was more need for the climbing legs on the second stage which brought the riders over 173.2km from Saint-Didier-sur-Chalaronne to Montreal-la Cluse. As the race started in the flat part of the department, the first half was largely flat but then the terrain gradually became harder. The category 4 Cote de Matafelon-Granges served as a warm-up before the riders hit the category 3 Cote de Cessiat for the first time, with the top coming at the 131.8km mark. From there they headed to the finish before they took on one lap of a 27.9km circuit. It included the 3.8km climb of Cote de Cessiat again. The top camke with 17km to go and then a short descent led to the final 12km which were very slightly downhill.


The riders had bright sunshine and ideal temperatures when the 126-rider peloton gathered for the start. There were no non-starters as they headed towards the hills but Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) got the race off on a bad note as they suffered mechanicals already in the neutral zone.


There were lots of attacks right from the start but FDJ controlled everything firmly before Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie), Florent Pereira (Roubaix), Romain Combaud (Delko) and Lukas Spengler (Switzerland) escaped after five kilometres of racing. The peloton was content with the situation and so the gap had gone out to 55 seconds just three kilometres later.


The gap reached 1.30 when the peloton suddenly accelerated at a point when 20 riders had stopped for a natural break. As a consequence, the gap came down to 1.10 but then the peloton again calmed down. Meanwhile, Romain Lemarchand (Stölting) who crashed yesterday, and Romain Hardy (Cofidis) became the first riders to abandon.


The front quartet worked well together, with Spengler being the most active, and they pushed their advantage out to 3.35 before Etixx-QuickStep hit the front at the 25km mark. Armee also lent a hand and those two teams rode on the front while Pereira beat Grellier and Spengler in the first intermediate sprint.


Surprisingly, Etixx-QuickStep used Bob Jungels for the early work and he kept the gap stable at around 3.30 at the end of the first hour during which they covered 41.3km. However, he soon accelerated and when he hit the final 110km, he had reduced it to just 2.55.


The strong headwind made it difficult for the escapees who were just 2.35 ahead with 100km to go but they managed to stabilize the situation as they went through the feed zone. In fact, the advantage had gone out to 3.10 when they hit the first climb. Here Combaud beat Pereira and Grellier in the KOM sprint while Etixx-QuickStep led the peloton.


Axel Domont (Ag2r) launched a solo attack as they approached the top and he quickly got an advantage of 45 seconds over the peloton which was now 4 minutes behind. When they hit the Cote de Cessiat for the first time, the lone Domont was 3 minutes behind the leaders while the peloton was at 3.45


The peloton accelerated and lots of riders got dropped. Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-QuickStep), Bert De Backer (Giant-Alpecin), Bryan Alahilippe, Alexis Bodiot (Armee), Pierre Barbier, Rudy Barbier (Robaix), Benjamin Giraud (Delko) and climing talent Nans Peters (France) who crashed yesterday, were among the riders to lose contact.


The escapees crested the summit with an advantage of 2.25 over Domont and 2.45 over the peloton which had split and it was again Combaud who won the KOM sprint ahead of Spengler, Pereira and Grellier. Known for his descending skills, defending champion Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) bridged across to Domont on the downhill part while Etixx-QuickStep remained in control.


Geniez and Domont maintained an advantage of 25 seconds before they decided to sit up and wait for the peloton which was 1.56 behind at the first passage of the line. A second group with yesterday’s runner-up Barbier was 25 seconds further adrift.


Davide Martinelli did the hard work for Etixx-QuickStep and managed to reduce the gap to 1.15 before they hit the climb again. Here Pereira was dropped from the lead group and he quickly lost 30 seconds.


Ag2r continued to ride aggressively as Hubert Dupont attacked and sprinted past Pereira. Moments later, his team later Pierre Latour also went on the offensive when the gap to the leaders was down to just 25 seconds. However, they were both brought back before the top where Combaud beat Spengler and Grellier in the KOM sprint, with Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) picking up the final point.


Everything came back together on the descent where Lotto Soudal had taken control. Rudy Molard (Cofidis) made a solo attack and was soon joined by Valentin Madouas (France). The paid had an advantage of 8 seconds with 4km to go but it was impossible to keep Lotto Soudal at bay.


The junction was made with 2.5km to go and then FDJ hit the front as they passed the flamme rouge, trying to lead Kevin Reza out for the sprint. However, no one could stop van der Sande who finished the great teamwork off by holding off Michael Schwarzmann and Anthony Turgis. Reza had to settle for fourth.


Race leader Matteo Trentin could only manage seventh but he retains the lead on a countback, sitting in the same time as van der Sande on GC. However, it will be difficult to defend his lead in tomorrow’s third stage which has the only uphill finish of the race. The 141.4km route between Nantua and Lelex Monts-Jura may be short but it offers climbs throughout the entire day. Already after 9.1km of racing, the riders will hit the 4.9km category 3 climb of Cote de Samognat and then they will tackle the category 2 climbs of Cote de Viry (4.2km), Cote de Plagne (4.8km) and Cote de Giron (8.7km). The top of the latter climb comes with 56.6km to go and then it is time for the key challenge, the category 1 climb of Col de Menthieres (9.3km, 7%). The final 21km consist of a descent and the final 12km of gradual climbing to the finish at Lelex Monts-Jura.



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