Koen Bouwman took the red and white polka dot jersey to stage victory, and the biggest win of his young career in stage 2 of Criterium du Dauphiné. It was another day where the break sprung a surprise, upsetting the sprinters as Bouwman won ahead of Evaldas Siskevicius and Frederik Backaert.
Could they know how it would end?
184km separated the field from the start line at La Chambon-sur-Lignon and the finish line at Tullins. Along the road there were four categorised climbs, three category 4 climbs and just the one category 3 ascent. It was another day for a breakaway to be enticed up the road and a familiar name to feature in it too. Yesterday’s breakaway rider Koen Bouwman of LottoNL-Jumbo was resplendent in his king of the mountains jersey, but he was not content to just sit on his laurels as he made it into the move to try and gain the KOM lead outright from Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt. He was joined by teammate Alexey Vermeulen, Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Frederik Backaert, Delko Marseille Provence KTM’s Evaldas Siskevicis and Quentin Pacher, and Direct Energie’s Bryan Nauleu.
Today’s break built up a maximum advantage of 6.45mins before the bunch began to bring things back. The opening hour of racing was very brisk, averaging 47.5kph. While yesterday Lotto Soudal had taken principle responsibility for the chase effort, this time it was FDJ who lent a big hand in sharing the load. Cofidis were also involved in bringing things back and so too Katusha-Alpecin and Dimension Data as the kilometres wore on. The result was that from 50km of racing remaining and the gap at just over 3 minutes the gap tumbled to 2.14mins with 36km to go.
FDJ pay close attention to front
On the front of the bunch were a real mixed bag of riders with FDJ very present still, and so too the yellow jersey of race leader Thomas De Gendt. AG2R La Mondiale were paying close attention to goings on at the front of the race, while Movistar had also sent four riders to the front of the race. But the break were continuing to work well together, having functioned well throughout the day. The break’s lead had dropped only slightly to just under 2.10mins with 28km remaining and a virtually entirely downhill/flat finale up ahead.
With 20km of racing to go Dimension Data had one rider on the front of the race and the gap had come down just a little more to 1.55mins; but the crucial factor was that the break’s advantage had only come down a little. There was still much work to be done by the peloton if they wanted to avoid being caught out. FDJ remained a strong presence at the front of the race, but had they left themselves too much to do? Thomas De Gendt’s overall lead wasn’t in any danger but a sprinter’s day most certainly was. Still the break’s lead dropped bit by bit, but the break were absolutely committed, with a lead of 1.40mins with 14.5km to go. Whatever happened next it was only guaranteed to be a tense finale.
Have the bunch made a mistake?
The breakaway clearly smelled that they were in with a chance and still held on to a lead of 1.27mins with 10km to go. They simply needed to team time trial their way onwards and forwards, not worrying about tactical games. Katusha-Alpecin hit the front of the race as the peloton went under the 10km to go banner, 1.1km behind the break, with Team Sky trying to look after Chris Froome and keep him at the front. The pace was hot in the bunch but was it hot enough as the break held on to a 1.12min lead with 8km remaining.
But the break were doing extremely well to maintain an average speed of between 47-50kph. The peloton were hitting 55kph in places but they only broke the minute barrier to the leaders with 6km remaining. Now the peloton were 850m in arrears and still it was all to play for, as the break persisted in working together. Now was not the time to consider who had the tactical advantage out of the break, everything was on the line. Still Katusha-Alpecin buried themselves at the front of the race as the leaders passed through 5km to go with 55 seconds to the pack. AG2R La Mondiale were again making their presence felt as now Cofidis and FDJ had riders up in front, taking over from Katusha-Alpecin.
Bouwman wins as break hold on
With 4km to go the gap was down to 50 seconds and that lead dropped to 44 seconds with 3km remaining as Bora-Hansgrohe now took over alongside Team Sky; had the sprinters called off the chase altogether? It finally began to look like the break had done enough as they still held 42 seconds with 2.5km remaining. FDJ were still driving hard on the front of the race, but it finally looked like a forlorn hope for the fast finishers and the courageous breakaway would contest the win.
2km remaining and the gap was 40 seconds. Now where would tactics come into play? The advantage was with Delko-Marseille and LottoNL-Jumbo who both had the potential for leading out one of their riders while Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Direct Energie had just the one rider for each. Through the kite with 1km to go LottoNL-Jumbo led the way as FDJ charged for the pack, but it was too little too late for them. Alexey Vermeulen led out the sprint, but Bouwman hit for home in the KOM jersey from around 200m out and it proved to be the winning strategy as he surged clear to take the win. Evaldas Siskevicius took second place and Dion Smith’s Wanty-Groupe Gobert teammate Backaert placed third. Bryan Nauleau, Alexey Vermeulen and Quentin Pacher rounded out the top 6 from the break; with all of them holding off the chasing peloton.
Arnaud Demare was the fastest of the bunch, but they crossed the line 11 seconds adrift, left only to wonder what might have been. Bryan Coquard of Direct Energie finished just behind him. Dion Smith was once again close to the front of the action in the sprint, crossing the line for his second top 20 finish in consecutive days. He eventually finished 19th on the stage, and 13th out of the main field.
Thomas De Gendt maintained his overall lead of 48 seconds ahead of Axel Domont and 1.03mins over Diego Ulissi. That lead will be tested though in tomorrow’s individual time trial over 23.5km; a stage where the GC challengers will really want to start flexing their muscles.