Romandie: Why the sprinters' teams failed against De Gendt

Thomas De Gendt's only fault on a day that saw him win again from a breakaway came when he predicted the number of teams that would chase him.

At the start of stage 2 at the Tour de Romandie, the Belgian Lotto Soudal rider assumed that Bahrain would chase for Sonny Colbrelli and that Sunweb and Quick-Step would follow suit for their sprinters, Michael Matthews, Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria. It was a sensible prediction. They were the race's lead sprinters, and other than the final stage on Sunday, this was their only chance of taking a victory.

As expected, and as he said he would, the Lotto leader went clear on the early climb of the Col des Rangiers. Nathan Brown (EF Education First-Drapac), Andrey Grivko (Astana), Matteo Fabbro (Katusha-Alpecin), and - crucially - his own teammate Victor Campenaerts followed the move, and although Fabbro and Grivko were soon dropped the remaining trio built up a lead of over eight minutes before the bunch panicked and finally reacted.

In the end, and when it mattered most, only Bahrain-Merida attempted to track the Belgian's escape. One team against a breakaway Goliath of De Gendt's stature was never going to be enough.

Where were the other teams De Gendt predicted would chase?

With Matthews unwell and unconfident of victory, Sunweb sat out almost from the start. From that point on Bahrain chose to gamble. They hit the front with 60km to go but their tactics were split. They wanted to ride fast enough to catch De Gendt but also drop Quick-Step's two sprinters. That latter goal lost them another potential ally. With a favourable route, strong legs, and a valuable teammate in the breakaway, De Gendt's odds for a stage win only grew as the road descent towards Yverdon. As soon as the Lotto-Soudal rider dropped his last companion, Nathan Brown, with around 26km to go, the stage result was over.

As the dust settled and De Gendt tossed his podium flowers into the crowd, all attention turned to the occupants of the Bahrain and Sunweb buses which sat side-by-side in the warm sunshine.

"Not many teams were helping today," shrugged Bahrain's Rik Verbrugghe after he watched Colbrelli finish runner-up for the second day in a row.

"We started to pull with 60km left and we wanted to eliminate some of the other sprinters. We know that Sonny is fast but that Viviani is faster. The goal was to try and not arrive with Viviani and continue to ride and catch the breakaway. I was hoping that other teams would start pulling, like Team Sky and Lotto Jumbo for the GC."

Part of the plan worked. Viviani was jettisoned without much of a fight as two teammates sifted back through the pack to find the Italian. That left Quick-Step with Gaviria – still finding his form after a recent injury - and three teammates. However, Bahrain's pace had reduced the Colombian's energies to fumes, and he never even featured in the chase or final sprint.

Verbrugghe's other potential allies were few and far between. Team Sky and BMC Racing did indeed marshal domestiques to the front but their efforts were sparse. Their main objective was to ensure that De Gendt wouldn't become a genuine GC threat, and once that task was complete they immediately filtered back into the main field.

"We had a double role with the Izagirre brothers but then to my surprise, Matthews was in the group and no one from Sunweb was helping us. That made it difficult," Verbrugghe said.

"When you have a rider like De Gendt in front, he showed so many times that this is his speciality. He proved it again today. If you don't receive help from other teams then it's difficult.

"A lot of the Quick-Step guys were dropped," Verbrugghe said. "They have a team here for the sprints, but they're all big guys and not climbers. They weren't there in the final, apart from Gaviria. That's cycling. You play you lose, you play you win. We didn't get enough support from the other team. LottoNL worked in the beginning but they lost some riders. Sky helped for the GC, so did BMC - a lot of teams tried but one rider isn't enough. Not against De Gendt. He's like 10 riders."

A few moments later, Matthews appeared from behind the door of the Sunweb bus.

"Straight away I felt horrible, and I thought that I was going to get dropped on the first climb," he told Cyclingnews.

"I didn't want to put the guys on the front and then see someone else win the stage. We gambled a bit to see if I could get through. I'm not sure what's going on but since the TT I've really struggled. Every time we go uphill I struggle and on stages like today I should get through pretty easily. Even in the sprint in the final, I had no legs left. Maybe I'm run down from a big period of racing."

Matthews would eventually recover and cross the line in fourth place. However, when asked about today's tactics he also added that Bahrain's lack of help stemmed from the fallout from stage 1, when the Australian lost the lead.

"Towards the end, Bahrain asked us to ride but we rode the whole day yesterday and no one helped us," Matthews said. "I think that was a bit of a payback for yesterday when Bahrain didn't ride and they were second. Astana didn't ride yesterday and they won the stage. It was a gamble, I wasn't confident that I could win the stage, so I didn't want to put the guys on the front."

No one would argue that De Gendt wasn't the strongest rider in the break, or that he didn't deserve his win. Circumstances played their part at the front of the race, but the effectiveness of the chase from behind was just as important.

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