Givet, France - With what seemed like a day full of never-ending attacks, chases, and regrouping, Michael Rice got his first top 10 finish of the season on stage 2 of Circuit des Ardennes on Saturday.
Riding in his second year with Hagens Berman Axeon, Rice is finding his form again after getting off to a good start this season in Europe, but came down with a stomach flu that forced him to DNF at Danilith Nokere Koerse and skip out on Handzame Classic.
“Looking at the race on paper this morning, we knew it was going to another tough day out,” said the Aussie. “We have a talented group here, so from a tactical perspective, we had multiple different opportunities to make for an aggressive final figuring it to be a reduced bunch kick.”
It wasn’t until after the breakaway became three riders around the 130 km mark that Ivo Oliveira bridged up to the riders and put a one minute time gap back to the peloton. After Ivo successfully joined the break, Will Barta and a group of six riders set out to chase the break. For the final 40 km, the front of the group seemed to change every few minutes until it all came back together near the end.
“Approaching the finish, the team did a fantastic job of positioning me into the sprint with Jonny and Rui doing a lot of the heavy lifting,” said Rice. “In the last 200 m, I was in contention, just getting pipped at the line for 4th. I’m happy with a top 5 result; it gives me a lot of motivation going forward into the rest of the season.”
Will Barta was the team’s next best finisher in 33rd, followed by Ivo in 49th, Joao Almeida in 79th, Ivo’s twin Rui in 85th, and Jonny Brown in 92nd.
Koos Moerenhout, sport director for the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team, feels that the fitness of all of the riders is good, especially for so early on in the season.
“The guys did well today,” said Moerenhout. “With a bit of luck, Ivo and the three other riders in the breakaway would’ve made it. There was a lot of action on the day, but also a lot of control. Tomorrow’s morning stage looks hard and I expect time gaps to come into play.”
Sunday’s morning stage is a hilly, 79.5 km course with 1,296 m of climbing. The afternoon stage that follows is 106 km in length, and ends with two loops of a 9.7 km circuit.
The first stage kicks off at 9:00 am CEST (3:00am EDT).
(Header photo of Michael Rice by Davey Wilson.)