As forecasted the rain pummeled down during the stage two time trial at the Binckbank Tour Tuesday leaving drenched riders picking their way gingerly through the nine-kilometer course peppered with numerous turns, speed bumps, slick painted lines, and pavé.
It was more a testament to staying upright than a showcase of speed and skill, leaving most GC contenders content with limiting losses than gaining ground on rivals.
Those keen on a stage result were perhaps more willing to take risks, but it landed many on the ground, including pre-race favorite Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) amongst many others.
Matthias Brändle knew it would be a fine-line between falling and winning, the margin of error minuscule, and when he fell during his recon of the course, the confidence he needed to push the envelope of risk seeped away.
"I was on a good corner speed during the recon in wet conditions, but when I slipped out on a really slippery passage, my good sensation and feeling for the right speed in the corners was gone," he explained. "I tried my best in the race, but with all the corners and roundabouts on the parcours, I just lost the little extra there... It's a pity as I know that normally a parcours like this really suits me, but without top speed in the corners, I had no chance against Küng."
It was not a bad crash, but it made for more fear, and you could see this in the corners – he was not a smooth as he usually is.
The rain worsened as the day progressed giving more advantage to the early starters. Stefan Küng (BMC) was one of the first riders to tackle the tricky course and the only rider to finish under 11 minutes. His time of 10:58 was never challenged as the rain fell steadily harder and after a long stint in the hot seat he was finally crowned with the stage win and new leader's jersey.
Brändle's pre-race crash was enough for him to doubt his pace around the nine-kilometer technical course, cutting his corner speeds – and with 12 turns it accumulated in significant time loss. When he crossed the line, he was 14 seconds slower than Küng.
"We were hoping to do a really good TT with Matthias; at nine kilometers it suited him really well. He was motivated, we were motivated, but to be honest, when I went to see the parcours this morning I could say it was not worth it," explained director Dirk Demol.
"With 12-13 corners, I am not sure how many roundabouts, and speed bumps and only nine kilometers… It was not a nice course. They could have made it longer, with more straightaways; of course, they never know for sure it will rain, but you have to calculate always that it might.
"It didn't help that Matthias crashed in the recon. It was not a bad crash, but it made for more fear, and you could see this in the corners – he was not a smooth as he usually is. Just the first 10 riders were able to start with a few dry corners, but when Matthias was on, the roads were already wet. He did good – 7th – but we were hoping for more."
"I have to say with all the crashes that happened today the organizers could have made a better and safer parcours," agreed Brändle. "With 12 corners and four roundabouts, and a lot of painted stripes on the road, plus pavé… Today it was a bit about taking risk and hope not to crash to really play for the win," said Brändle.
While Brändle fought his way to a top 10 finish – a very decent result on the complicated course – Jasper Stuyven opted to take little risks in the ice-like corners and hoped to limit time losses rather than trying to gain any advantage over his GC rivals.
"Mads (Pedersen), Jasper, Edward (Theuns), and Boy (van Poppel) all finished around the same time. They all did a good TT. In general, I have to say well done," continued Demol. "Normally it should be a bunch sprint tomorrow, and we will try to stay safe through the next stages and take our opportunities if they come. But our main focus will be the weekend for the GC."