The second road stage of the tour was much less stressful than the first with better weather and a flat and less technical course. We had to complete 8 laps of 14km that started and finished in the town of Nijlen. Kirsten Wild took another bunch sprint victory but we also had a good day just relaxing in the peloton and our youngest rider Nettie claiming 3rd in the finish.
The speed was high all day and in was clear that it would be a waste of our energy to be aggressive like we had done the day before. We all tried to stay near the front to watch what other teams were doing and also to stay safe. There was a death valley in the road for nearly the whole lap, plus there was also footpaths on either side of the road with larges cracks, so it was important to avoid getting stuck in these small but treacherous traps.
There were a few attacks but no one really seemed to motivated to form a breakaway. The bunch was like a washing machine and it was not encouraging for riders to jump, as the bunch would soon swallow them up again without trying too hard. The last road stage is a tough one and we decided to save our energy for that.
Just before the halfway mark a rider from the Lotto Belisol team, Marijn de Vries, jumped and got a good gap on the bunch. A solo breakaway was not a threat to the GC teams and those wanting a bunch sprint so she was left out there on her own. The next lap Vera Koedooder of Sengers made a strong attack and bridged the gap to join Marijn. They worked together and gained nearly 1.5 minutes on the bunch.
We knew it wasn’t our duty to bring these riders back or to send a rider across and just waited patiently near the front as Lululemon and Argos started to work on the front to bring back the gap. It was a perfect situation for us. Although defending a jersey is fun, it’s also nice to not have any responsibility in a race and let the other teams do the hard work! Though the speed got faster and faster in the last few laps, we didn’t catch the duo until less than 2km to go.
The final lap was chaotic with everyone trying to be at the front. Argos was setting up their sprint train for Wild, Lululemon was just trying to keep Ellen and Lisa safe, Hitec were protecting Chloe Hosking and then there were many club riders trying to have a go too. We wanted to lead out Nettie but we struggled to stay in contact with each other as the bunch kept swarming. I got to the front a few times but was soon overtaken. I was stuck with Nettie just in front of me with just over 1km to go. She did a great job to move up into the top 5 wheels but was on her own. With about 600m to go I made it up there to open the door for her but it was definitely not a lead out! Wild jumped and was again just too strong for everyone else. Nettie did a great job with a long drag race to the line.
We all felt good today and were glad to not spend our energy chasing or attacking. Tomorrow’s course is very difficult and we are all excited to see what we can do now the field is tired. Some good food, a massage, a big sleep and a morning spin to warm up the legs will hopefully get me ready for one more day of battle in Belgium!