Andrea Guardini (Astana) has won stage one of the Eneco Tour to take the leader’s jersey after a chaotic finale.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) attacked solo late in the stage after a crash-marred run-in and looked to have done enough to take the stage, however he was caught in sight of the finish line.
It left Guardini to outsprint Yohann Gene (Team Europcar) to take the stage win and the overall win – despite protestations from Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) who felt the Italian had impeded him.
Kenneth van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Laurens de Vreese (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) formed the day’s break, with the sprint teams setting the pace behind.
The three-man break was given license to go well clear from the off, their advantage stretching out to 8’30” at its maximum as they set about claiming the day’s intermediate points.
With no shortage of elite fast men on the start list, however, their lead was always going to tumble once the peloton started to chase – as proved to be the case on the flatlands.
A crash involving Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Giant-Shimano), Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Antoine Duchesne (Team Europcar) momentarily disrupted matters but the sprint teams worked well together on the front.
Narrow roads en route meant plenty of racing for position in between – particularly as they approached the wide-open fields on the route back to Terneuzen.
Sky were one of the teams to take advantage of the crosswinds in the fields, Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard going through-and-off on the front to take big shifts in the wind – briefly splitting the peloton in half.
There was a heavy British presence on the front of the bunch – with Alex Dowsett (Movistar) and Steve Cummings (BMC Racing) also showing themselves and Geraint Thomas sticking in his Team Sky team-mates’ wheels.
Rain added further woes to those struggling at the back as Sky continued to set a fierce pace – aided by the likes of Omega Pharma-Quickstep, Lotto-Belisol and Orica-GreenEDGE.
The gap to the front men continued to tumble as a result, with the back of the bunch becoming very strung out further behind.
Road furniture – in particular several roundabouts on the route – also contributed to the bunch becoming spread out.
The effect was plenty of opportunity for counter-attacks, with Christian Knees (Team Sky) causing a split in one such situation.
A large group earned a gap on the bunch – Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) and Dowsett were also among the big engines to make the split.
Brutt, Trentin and Knees attacked the group as the breakaway came within sight – by now down to two after Smukulis slid out on a wet corner.
Spotting the danger in the move that went clear, several riders bridged to join the front group but Trek Factory Racing led the chase and brought the peloton back together with 17 kilomretres to go.
More roundabouts caused the bunch to become strung out again almost immediately, however, a gap appearing behind a small group led by Gert Stegmans (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
The Belgian team continued on the front with three riders at the fore, Steegmans leading the way, while Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) also rode hard on the front.
With riders dropping off the back, Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) crashed heavily in the bunch as he fought to maintain road position – Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) also going down as he hit the brakes to avoid him.
Still no team really took control on the front, however, though Lars Boom (Belkin), Dowsett and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) came forward to earn bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint.
The roundabouts caused more crashes in the bunch, with Sylvain Dillier (BMC Racing) sliding out on one and Danny van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) going down at another.
The chaos created by the road furniture gave Lotto-Belisol the opportunity to come forward, with Tim Wellens leading the bunch with two kilometres to go.
Mirko Selvaggi (Wanty Groupe-Golbert) attacked off the front with 1600 metres to go, however, prompting counter-attacks from Dowsett and (Giant-Shimano).
Selvaggi and Dowsett were both caught, though the latter appeared at one point to have done enough to take the stage as Alexander Porsev (Katusha) chased hard.
With the headwind impeding his solo effort, however, the bunch closed him down as a messy sprint ensued.
And Guardini passed him in sight of the finish line to take the stage win, and the leader’s jersey.
Eneco Tour 2014: stage one – result
1) Andrea Guardini (ITA) – Astana – 4.14.47hrs
2) Yohann Gene (FRA) – Team Europcar – ST
3) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
4) Jens Debusschere (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
5) Boy van Poppel (NED) – Trek Factory Racing
6) Alexander Porsev (RUS) – Team Katusha
7) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Shimano
8) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
9) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Belkin Pro Cycling
10) Michael van Staeyen (BEL) – Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
General classification (provisional)
1) Andrea Guardini (ITA) – Astana – 4.14.37hrs
2) Yohann Gene (FRA) – Team Europcar +4”
3) Laurens de Vreese (BEL) – Wanty Groupe-Gobert +5”
4) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +6”
5) Lars Boom (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +7”
6) Alex Dowsett (GBR) – Movistar +8”
7) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing +9”
8) Jens Debusschere (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +10”
9) Boy van Poppel (NED) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
10) Alexander Porsev (RUS) – Katusha