What looked so peaceful in the beginning turned out to be a big fight, starting 60 kilometers to the line. On the Hungarian Puszta, the bigger teams in the race split the bunch into many pieces.
The Hungarian Puszta is an exclave of the Eurasian Steppe, famous for its treeless plains, saline steppes, and salt lakes. It was not surprising the race would unfold in an interesting way here, especially when the wind picked up, halfway into stage 2.
Israel – Premier Tech had Tom van Asbroeck, GC-contenders Krists Neilands and Carl Fredrik Hagen, and sprinters Rudy Barbier (fourth yesterday) and Itamar Einhorn in the first peloton. The stage started to unfold in an ideal scenario for the Israeli team. On one hand, our GC-contenders were happy to outplay some of their competitors for the general classification. On the other hand, for the French and Israeli sprinters, being in a scattered first peloton was a great opportunity to sprint for the victory in a smaller group.
However, in the late final, the first and second echelon did come together, resulting in a bigger bunch hunting for the line. It seemed as though all the sprinters tasted blood after a tough stage; however, none of them had as strong a team around them as Einhorn and Barbier.
And being a strong team would prove to be most important when, in the final kilometers, a massive crash derailed most of the sprint trains, but not Israel – Premier Tech’s.
Barbier was on the wheel of Jakobsen, trying to beat him on the line, but without success: second. Einhorn came from further back, with a lot of speed, but just not enough to make the podium: fourth.
Israeli sports director Dror Pekatch was more than happy to see the team race so attentively today, resulting in two top-5s.
“I saw an excellent lead-out after a strong performance by the whole team. This was a good day for us.”
Despite how hectic it was, Neilands also took two seconds in the third intermediate sprint. Seconds that could prove to be very valuable after Sunday’s final stage.
Barbier will be racing in the green jersey, as the new race leader will be wearing yellow.
For the French sprinter, a stage win was the primary goal, but now being so well positioned and very competitive in the flat stages, he is also aiming for the points classification in Hungary.
“I have two more chances to achieve both goals.”
Tomorrow’s stage 3 is also likely to be contested in a bunch sprint. The only stage not for the sprinters is stage 5, which features a mountaintop finish.