It was frantic finish at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday that saw the field all back together with more than an hour of racing still to go but Astana's Andrea Guardini was happy enough with his fourth-place despite losing his teammates entering the final moments of the race.
The headwind sprint meant that a number of riders who jumped too early found themselves quickly going backwards as the real contenders sprinted for the line. Guardini was in the mix but poor positioning and a lack of teammates around him resulted in falling one spot shy of the podium, in fourth.
"In the last 400m there was so many riders coming backwards because they sprinted too early. I followed Cavendish on the right side of the road and moved up through the pack for the sprint. It was a strong head wind and I knew if I tried to go too early I would lose positions," said Guardini on his team site.
Guardini could do little to contest with the finishing speed of Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), who took his second consecutive win in the sprinter's warm-up ahead of Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. Mark Cavendish (OPQS), a three-time winner in the Belgian classic, found himself in a similar situation to Guardini and had to sprint from too far back just to get near the now two-time winner Kittel.
The Astana squad had placed a rider up the road so they would not be forced to chase toward the end of the 204.2km race but crosswinds that hit the peloton meant a rapid increase in speed brought the day's breakaway back into the fold well ahead of schedule.
Garmin Sharp and Argos drove the pace and caused a number of splits but the attentive Astana team still had the numbers up front.
"The sprinters' teams started to compete early when we got into a crosswind. Garmin-Sharp and Argos-Shimano split up the peloton and sent everyone flying, and that ended the breakaway around 40km before anybody wanted. We were smart to have four riders at the front of the peloton when the splits happened, so we didn't have to chase, but it meant that Arman [Kamyshev] came back early and the race effectively restarted with more than an hour to go," said Astana team director Jaan Kirsipuu.
Guardini was kept up the front with less than two kilometres remaining but when a rush from Argos came on the left side of the road the Giro stage winner was left isolated. His neo-professional teammate Ruslan Tleubayev found himself locked into the wheel of the German winner and could do little but remain on the wheel and look for his own result. He ended up crossing the line in 39th.
"It was an accident of the course, there was a turn and our riders were separated. Tleubayev found himself alone behind Kittel, and at 500m he was at the front with nothing to do except go for victory,” added Kirsipuu.