The second World Ports Classic was expected to follow the same script as the inaugural edition, with a showdown of the world's best sprinters. However, just like yesterday, a lone adventurer soloed to victory in today's stage to Antwerp. Dutchman Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) stayed clear of a 15-man group in a lively finale after blue jersey Jelle Wallays (TopSport) and the top sprinters missed the decisive move. Omega Pharma-Quick Step Belgian Nikolas Maes' third-place finish, 3â?³ behind Tjallingii, netted him a time bonus that was enough for him to succeed fellow countryman and teammate Tom Boonen as the winner of the "Race of the Wind".
A frantic peloton sets course for the North Sea
The 137 riders left in the World Ports Classic rolled out of Rotterdam along the New Meuse (Nieuwe Maas) at 11:15 this morning. On the menu, a 191 km stage to Antwerp along the North Sea coast, battered by strong north-westerly winds. Lots of riders gave it a go in the first few kilometres, including Aussie sprinter Mark Renshaw (Belkin), but the high pace meant they were soon brought back into the fold. The peloton soon broke up into several groups. Things came back together at km 35, giving Belgian Louis Verhelst (Cofidis) the chance to slip away together with American Jacob Rathe (Garmin). Despite managing to open a 1â€²40â€³ gap over the bunch at the 50 km mark, the duo was finally caught shortly after the Neeltje Jans intermediate sprint (km 74), with AndrÃ© Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) taking third place.
Echelons in full swing in Zeeland
The peloton did not let up as it chugged away on the seafront dikes and polders, with an average speed of 47 km/h in the first two hours. Omega Pharma Quick-Step and Lotto-Belisol were in their element, taking advantage of the change of direction near Middelburg (km 92.5) to thin out the peloton and test leader Jelle Wallays, who fought back like a lion. The size of the leading group dwindled to about forty men. Kittel (Argos) and Renshaw were among the big names who did not make the cut, but the blue jersey was still in the mix despite having no teammates left.
Wallays and the sprinters caught napping
Faced with Wallays' resilience, AndrÃ© Greipel's Lotto-Belisol changed tack by sending Lars Bak up front with 45 km to go. The Dane still had 30â€³ at the tough Kasseistrook cobbled sector (2,300 m), with a group of fifteen big guns, including French fast man Bryan Coquard and three riders each of the Lotto-Belisol and Saxo Bank teams, hot in pursuit following an attack by Tristan Valentin (Cofidis). Isolated blue jersey Jelle Wallays and sprinters Greipel and Petacchi could only watch as the decisive break rolled away.
Tjallingii goes it alone
Lars Bak was caught by the chase group with 25 km to go. Dutchman Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) launched a vicious attack with 15 km to go that went unanswered. Five kilometres later, his margin over the 15-man group had grown to 30â€³. The Saxo Bank and Lotto-Belisol riders took control of the chase behind, but the Dutch rouleur did not falter and made it to the finish line with a few seconds to spare, with FrÃ©dÃ©rique Robert (Lotto) and Nikolas Maes (OPQS) rounding off the podium. The time bonus was enough for Maes to move into the leader's blue jersey and take the second edition of the World Ports Classic.