Defending champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) sprinted to victory from a select front group to win stage two of the Eneco Tour and take over the race lead.
Czech champion Stybar and his team-mates excelled in the rain and wind in the final few kilometres as they and Belkin hit the front of the bunch ad split it in a late section of crosswinds.
It left world cyclo-cross champion Stybar to battle it out with fellow ‘cross ace turned road racing star Lars Boom (Belkin) and it was the Czech rider who prevailed to take over the leader’s jersey ahead of the stage three time trial.
The day’s break seemed harmless enough when it went clear – Pavel Brutt (Katusha) and Kevin van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) ensuring their teams were represented in the day’s break for the second stage running.
Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) joined them as the three were allowed to build a lead of more than five minutes.
Surprisingly, however, the gap did not come down as would have been expected – the three working well together in first the rain and then on the dry, narrow roads of the final 40 kilometres or so.
It took some time for the peloton to organise their chase, but when they did it became frantic as David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) came forward with his team-mates to pull hard.
Belkin also brought their riders forward to set a furious pace through Sep Vanmarcke, but Giant-Shimano found themselves forced off the back as Tom Dumoulin suffered a puncture just as the hammer was going down.
The GC man for the Dutch team, Dumoulin quickly found himself a minute down as the entire Giant-Shimano team dropped back to lend some support.
A favourite to take over the leader’s jersey after the stage three time trial, Dumoulin’s absence meant his rivals were happy to take over from the sprint teams at the front of the bunch to keep him at bay.
Back up the road, the front group showed little signs of slowing either – the gap remaining menacing as the kilometres ticked down.
Pavel Brutt (Katusha), who had been allowed to take the intermediate time bonuses, shot off the front of the trio with 12 kilometres to go – starting his time trial a day early.
The bunch continued to ride hard – Belkin on the front and Omega Pharma-Quickstep in the wheels – but the latter lost one of their key lead-outs in Matteo Trentin as he crashed.
Behind them, Giant-Shimano continued to desperately pull Dumoulin back to the bunch – drafting their team car to the fury of the race director before Dumoulin himself had to take a turn on the front.
Crosswinds hit hard in the final eight kilometres or so – Brutt being battered by the conditions first before the wind and rain slowed the chase too.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep continued to pull hard, however, their pace splitting the bunch as they and Belkin found themselves with numbers in the front group as they finally chased down Brutt.
The catch was made with just shy of five kilometres to go – the puncture to Dumoulin putting paid indirectly to Brutt’s chances of staying out.
The split in the bunch had caught several of the sprinters out – Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) included – while further back Giant-Shimano sat up, with the exception of Dumoulin who continued his frantic chase back to the bunch.
With a select group heading for the for the finish, in a wet cobbled finale, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Andriy Grivko (Astana) hit the front in a bid to earn a gap.
Gilbert – in much the same way he had done at RideLondon – attacked with great regularity on the front, while team-mate Manuel Quinziato earned a slender lead alongside Lars Boom (Belkin) and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) under the flamme rouge.
Belkin tried to make use of their numeric advantage – Bauke Mollema hitting the front as the three were reeled in, in an attempt to lead out Boom and Vanmarcke.
But Stybar opened up his sprint with 300 metres to go – having found Mollema’s wheels and burst around him.
And the defending champion had enough to hold off the joint challenge of the two Belkin men to take stage victory.
Further back Dumoulin rejoined the chasing group, though whether he faces any punishment for the chase remains to be seen.
One time trial specialist who was not in the main group, however, was England’s Commonwealth Games gold medallist Alex Dowsett (Movistar) who dropped out of the top-ten overall.
Eneco Tour 2014: stage two – result
1) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 4.06.15hrs
2) Lars Boom (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling – ST
3) Sep Vanmarcke (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
4) Marco Marcato (ITA) – Cannondale
5) Manuel Quinziato (ITA) – BMC Racing
6) Roy Jans (BEL) – Wanty Groupe Gobert
7) Davide Appollonio (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
8) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
9) Julien Vermote (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Stig Broeckx (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
1) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 8.20.39hrs
2) Lars Boom (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +1”
3) Sep Vanmarcke (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +6”
4) Pavel Brutt (RUS) – Katusha +7”
5) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing +9”
6) Marco Marcato (ITA) – Cannondale +10”
7) Nikolay Trusov (RUS) – Tinkoff-Saxo – ST
8) Roy Jans (BEL) – Wanty Groupe Gobert
9) Aidis Kruopis (LTU) – Orica-GreenEDGE
10) Jens Keukeleire (BEL) – Orica-GreenEDGE