Van Avermaet, who finished in fourth place on the same finish in 2017, launched his sprint in the final few hundred meters but could not hold Alaphilippe off and settled for second place on the first road stage of the race.
Earlier, the day’s breakaway was able to form without a fight and after 20 kilometers, five riders had established a four-minute advantage while behind, CCC Team’s riders remained in the peloton.
The breakaway’s advantage reached a maximum of 4’20” and for the majority of the 195-kilometer stage, the breakaway hovered around 3’30” in front of the peloton, led by race leader Michael Hepburn’s Mitchelton-SCOTT team.
As more teams came to the front to assist with the chase in the final 30 kilometers, the breakaway’s advantage quickly decreased until the catch was made with 13 kilometers to go.
Van Avermaet was positioned well at the front of the bunch, surrounded by his CCC Team teammates, as the fast pace and undulating terrain caused riders to drop from the group.
The orange CCC Team train was visible in the center of the peloton at the point when riders started attacking from the bunch, which put Van Avermaet in the perfect position to respond to attacks from riders trying to avoid a sprint finish.
Van Avermaet was forced to chase a small group, that opened up a gap approaching three-kilometers to go, and made the catch just before the flamme rouge, which set the stage for the reduced bunch sprint to the line.
With 500-meters to go, Van Avermaet was perfectly positioned in third wheel and was the first rider to launch his sprint but was overtaken by Alaphilippe in the last hundred meters and settled for second place.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was quite a good pace the whole day long. Mitchelton-SCOTT was controlling and Gijs and Guillaume set me up really well for the last climb. Actually, everything went perfectly for me. Michi did a good job closing some gaps and I just tried to stay as long as possible out of the wind and then came in the front in the last two kilometers. For me, the stage couldn’t have gone better and we executed our plan exactly as we said we would in the meeting. When you get second place it’s sad, but it’s the way it is and I was pretty happy with how the team and I performed today.”
“The finale was super hard but I said to myself from the beginning that I wouldn’t move with anybody unless it was a group of 20 guys. You have to choose the sprint and hope that everything comes back. It was good to have Michi there still to close some gaps and the group that went clear only took five or ten seconds so you knew with the final coming closer that they would be caught back. It was good for me like this.”
“Tomorrow is quite flat so I hope to survive as good as possible. We will see what happens in the final. We always have to be there to make sure there are no gaps in the final, and then we’ll see the next day. I think the day after is another good stage for me and hopefully, I can be up there again.”
Valerio Piva, Sports Director:
“This was a stage that we signaled as an objective for us to try to win with Greg. We tried to stay calm until the final kilometers. We knew the finish as Greg was already fourth there two years ago. The plan was to be up there with him and try to control the race and bring him there in a good position. Greg was calm, the team was perfect, but unfortunately today, we found a very strong Alaphilippe again. Greg did the maximum but Alaphilippe was stronger. You can’t have any regrets when you are beaten by a stronger rider. I am happy with the performance I saw today.”
Stage 2 Camaiore > Pomarance (195km)
Top 3: 1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), 2. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), 3. Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First)
CCC Team top 3: 2. Greg Van Avermaet, 40. Joey Rosskopf, 56. Michael Schär
Photos courtesy of Cor Vos