The apocalyptic weather that forced the cancellation of stage 2 yesterday seemed a million miles away today in Stoke-on-Trent as Rabobank rider Lars Boom won a stage bathed in golden sunshine and also pulled on the golden jersey of race leader. The Dutch fast man sprinted away from all the major players on the tight uphill finish, led-out by his Australian teammate Michael Matthews, giving the Netherlands team first and second on the day.
Although the conditions were still on the windy side as the 94-rider bunch tackled the 86-mile stage it was no bother to the Dutch hard man Boom who said afterwards, "I know that it is always tricky with the wind when you are in England, but I’m from Holland, so I’m used to it."
The deceptively hard parcours and the nagging wind made it hard for breakaways, as the early trio of Andrew Fenn (An Post-Sean Kelly), Russell Hampton (Sigma Sport-Specialized) and Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) found out to their cost after slipping away shortly after the race left the start in Trentham Gardens.
The move gained a maximum of three minutes over the peloton while behind the race split up into four distinct groups. At the front of the chasing group was the HTC-Highroad team of race leader Mark Cavendish, who were assisted by Team Sky, hoping to launch one of their guys off the front. The enthusiasm of the British team was such that they didn’t even slow down for lunch at the feed station after 45 miles but carried on drilling the pace into the wind.
Boom was clearly aware of the tactics having watched HTC-Highroad and Sky working together on stage one and said, "We knew that you can't bring HTC and Cavendish or the Sky boys to the finish. We knew we would have to surprise them, and we managed to do that."
Meanwhile, the brave efforts of the breakaway threesome were over by the top of the category one climb of Gun Hill (after 53 miles) and a select group of 27 riders, including eventual winner Boom and race leader Cavendish, steamed on into Stoke, leaving the rest of the field in tatters.
That should have been that, in terms of further attacking, but no one told 22-year-old Alex Dowsett of Team Sky, who went off the front with over ten miles remaining. Despite an epic effort against the clock, the recently crowned British time trial champion was reeled in with a little over a mile to go, setting the stage for a bunch finish in The Potteries town of Hanley.
The finish in Stoke-on-Trent makes it hard to organise a lead-out but former cyclo-cross world champion Boom stuck to the wheel of teammate Matthews, a former U-23 World Road Race champion, and swung round the corner to the take victory. Home rider Geraint Thomas was third on the stage and goes into third place overall. Mark Cavendish finished fifth on the stage and loses his lead to go into second place with a deficit of three seconds.
After pulling on the leader's jersey 25-year-old Boom said of his win: "With 200 metres to go I managed to jump over [Steve] Cummings and [Geraint] Thomas and then the corners started, so they couldn't pass us anymore. My first aim was to pull for Michael [Matthews] and then I felt good so I am happy to win."
The rider from Vlijmen in the Netherlands, who has spent his entire junior and professional career riding for Rabobank, finished by saying, "It is nice to win. It's nice to win before the world championships. I will try and defend the jersey and win the overall, that is the goal now."
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This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.