In Lobethal, on stage 2 of the Tour Down Under, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team took its first official top-10 of the 2024 season on Wednesday. After perfectly surviving the day’s last climb, Laurence Pithie took part in the final sprint and placed tenth on the line. Just ahead of the bunch, Isaac del Toro took the stage win and the overall lead. A more usual sprint is anticipated on Thursday in Campbelltown.

One hundred and forty-one kilometres were on the riders’ program on Wednesday for the second stage of the Tour Down Under. The first thirty-five were to lead them to the Lobethal circuit, also thirty-five kilometres long but to be covered three times and featuring the Fox Creek Climb (1.6 km at 7.5%) less than ten kilometres from the finish. Everyone expected a real fight in the final, and it sure was the only one that took place. “Although there was a ten-kilometer climb at the start, no racing happened,” said Jussi Veikkanen. “Two men established the breakaway (Luke Burns and Jardi Christiaan van der Lee) and that led to a traditional stage with the peloton controlling in the back. We imagined two options for the race plan, and the first that came true. The breakaway was caught twenty-five kilometres from the finish, and we then approached the last climb.” After quite a calm day, the nervousness obviously took over “The goal was to position Laurence as best as possible at the bottom, then for him to do his own climb and try to be there with the remaining sprinters,” added Jussi. “We thought that it would be too difficult for Welsford, and it was. For Rudy and Reuben, the goal was to not lose time on the competition, but to try to follow if some favorites attacked.”

“We still need to make adjustments”, Jussi Veikkanen

From the very bottom, the pace picked up then the bunch really reduced in the 10% ramps. At this point, the Australian champion Luke Plapp also made a big acceleration, followed by Jonathan Narvaez, Julian Alaphilippe… and Laurence Pithie, for several hundred meters. “It was very hard in the final, but I had very good positioning coming into the last climb thanks to Fabian,” said the Kiwi. “I managed to stay towards the front, in the first five wheels, just until the final couple hundred of metres where I couldn’t hold Plapp and Narvaez anymore. Still, to be there was good.” The New Zealander passed the top just a handful of seconds later, at the front of a bunch still made up of around eighty riders. The latter then flew towards the finish, first catching the leading duo, before another duo got away in a short bump five kilometres from the finish. Quinn Simmons and Bastien Tronchon stayed away until the last kilometre, but they eventually got caught by the bunch, and first by Isaac del Toro. The Mexican produced a late attack after the flamme rouge to win the stage just ahead of the pack. Laurence Pithie managed to grab tenth place in the sprint. “He was a bit isolated in the final because we had to change our organization a bit,” explained Jussi. “We had planned to keep Fabian with him until the end, but he had to sacrifice himself earlier. These are adjustments that we still need to make for the future. We feel that this is a group that does not have the experience of riding together”

“Legs are feeling really good”, Laurence Pithie

“I tried to stay towards the front by myself in the last five kilometres, but unfortunately I was getting pushed back a little,” said Laurence. “With a kilometre to go, I was stuck and couldn’t really move forward where I would have liked to. I think that with better positioning in the final, it could have been a very nice result. It was better than yesterday, so that’s good. We keep striving to be better every day and hopefully I can do even better in the coming days. There are still a lot of opportunities to come, trying to be in the mix. Legs are feeling really good, physically I’m there, I just need to work on my positioning, and it should fall into place hopefully.“Laurence proved that he’s in good shape, but we already knew that after the criterium,” added Jussi. “We’re still confident for the future and that we’ll get a top result before the end of this Australian campaign.” On Wednesday, Rudy Molard, Reuben Thompson and Enzo Paleni also finished in the main peloton. Next stop: Campbelltown, on Thursday. “On paper, it’s one of the easiest stages of the week,” concluded Jussi. “That being said, the last fifteen kilometres are not easy to handle. It’s a narrow road, partly downhill, that we’ve been taking for over fifteen years, but it should be a sprint in the end.”

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