Scot David Millar is still within grasp of winning The Three Days of De Panne overall tomorrow following a hard-fought stage today in the driving rain of Flanders, Belgium. Frenchman Sébastien Turgot won from an escape group, while Millar finished 41 seconds back a second group with Italian Luca Paolini, the new classification leader.
"I expected the worst when I signed up to do De Panne," said Millar, "but today even exceeded my expectations. Gale force winds and rain made it nothing less than an epic day out in Belgium."
"I am still shivering. It was an incredible stage in that cold weather," Paolini of team Acqua & Sapone said. "I will see what I can do tomorrow to put some time between me and Millar."
Millar (Garmin-Transitions) moved from seventh overall to fourth overall and trails Paolini by 12 seconds. He faces a short, 112-kilometre stage designed for sprinters tomorrow morning and a 14.75-kilometre time trial stage in the afternoon. His potential rival for the overall victory is Andriy Grivko (Astana), who is tied with Paolini for the overall lead. Frédéric Amorison (Landbouwkrediet) is third overall, nine seconds back.
Grivko made the 12-man initial escape group, which was reduced to four after the wind and rain took its toll. Turgot gave France and Bbox their second win in as many days, and his first win since last year's Ireland's Tour Ivoirien de la Paix stage one Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Grivko and Jens Mouris (Vacansoleil) finished second though fourth.
Brit Adam Blythe also made the initial escape when it formed at kilometre 24 with Omega Pharma team-mate Gilbert. Gilbert and Grivko split the group on the Kemmelberg, the climb better known for its appearance in the Ghent-Wevelgem. Blythe, Dan Pate (Garmin) and four others joined the two to form a group of eight ahead of the shortened finish.
After the Kemmelberg, organisers decided to cut two of the 13-kilometre finishing circuits due to the nasty Belgian weather. The decision left only 69 kilometres from the top of the Kemmelberg to the finish in Sint-Idesbald.
Winds and rain continued to blow the riders across the road, further breaking the chase and lead groups. Blythe and Pate lost contact with the front, leaving six riders. Behind, Millar and team-mate Tyler Farrar made the cut in the 16-man chase group, but race leader Steve Chainel (Bbox) was shelled with 27 kilometres to race.
"The cold made it a lot worse than it actually was out there," Blythe told Cycling Weekly, still shivering in the 5°C temperatures. "My desire to continue was for the win. If Phil can get up there, and he did, then it is worth it."
Pate soon joined Millar's and Paolini's group and went to work to reel in the front group, which was being led by Grivko. They crossed the finish line, shivering and soaked, 41 seconds behind Grivko's group.
"I was only thinking about the [leader's] jersey," Grivko explained. "I hope to have a great time trial tomorrow and win De Panne."
Millar will have a tough day ahead of him to beat Ukrainian Grivko, a four-time national time trial champion.
"This is far from a given," Millar said, "as he is a talented time trialist. Fingers crossed."
Three Days of De Panne 2010, stage two: Zottegem-Koksijde (Sint Idesbald)
1. Sebastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 188km in 4-55-07
2. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
3. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana
4. Jens Mouris (Ned) Vacansoleil at same time
5. Bobbie Traksel (Ned) Vacansoleil at 41secs
6. Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone
7. Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Katusha
8. Hayden Roulston (NZl) HTC-Columbia
9. Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
10. James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Verandas Willems at same time.
Overall classification after stage two
1. Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone in 9-30-10
2. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana at same time
3. Frederic Amorison (Bel) Landbouwkrediet at 9secs
4. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 12secs
5. Sebastien Turgot (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom at 1-30
6. Jens Mouris (Ned) Vacansoleil at 1-37
7. Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Katusha at 2-15
8. Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 2-15
9. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 2-18
10. Hayden Roulston (NZ) HTC-Columbia at 2-21
Luca Paolini, Leif Hoste and Tyler Farrar
Stijn Devolder (right) gives Robbie McEwen a helping hand
Philippe Gilbert placed second
Sebastien Turgot adds to BBox's impressive 2010 win tally
Three Days of De Panne stage one: Millar positioned for overall; Chainel wins stage
Blythe to race Tour of Flanders in support of Gilbert
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