Having stunned the peloton by challenging for the win on a mountain stage yesterday and extending his overall lead, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was back on familiar territory today. With the racing today taking place on a long flat stage, Peter’s BORA-hansgrohe teammates protected the GC leader and set him up perfectly for the predicted bunch sprint. In an aggressive sprint, where his adversaries clashed with him, Peter crossed the line in third to extend his GC lead, while Rafał Majka held onto his third spot in the overall contest.
It was the longest day of the Tour de Pologne, and by a long way. At 238km, the only stage that would come close to this distance would be the penultimate day, at 189km. While there was just one categorised climb, this came at the 30km mark, and as a fourth category, was unlikely to trouble anyone. This meant the sheer distance was the main challenge for anyone wanting to be in with a chance of taking the win – and with a street circuit finish in Zabrze, it was likely to fall to the sprinters to provide the excitement in the closing kilometres.
On such a long route, it was only the bravest riders who would want to get in the breakaway, with the potential of riding such a long distance as a small group putting off many. A small group of escapees took up the challenge, however, with six making their way up the road and fast building a healthy advantage. Even at this early stage, the sprint teams wanted to ensure the day ended as they had planned, and didn’t allow the gap to extend past six minutes. With 100km remaining, this gap was down to four minutes, the BORA-hansgrohe team fulfilling the dual role of protecting the race leader, Peter Sagan, as well as putting him in a strong position for the sprint.
Spending such a long time off the front was taking its toll on the break, and in spite of their best efforts, it was clear that they were struggling. The first of the escapees returned to the peloton with 50km to go, and with 20km remaining, the gap was reduced to just over a minute. With just three left out in front with 15km to go, it was only a matter of time until they were caught – with BORA-hansgrohe pushing the pace even harder once the break was in their sights. With 5km remaining, it was all back together, leaving only the sprint for the line to play for. Over the demanding street circuit, it was chaos as riders fought for position. With some aggressive bumping in the sprint, Peter was forced to shift his line, finishing the day in third position, extending his lead in the GC contest to ten seconds.
With high speeds, the long distance and temperatures approaching 40°C, Peter felt the efforts on what was a very tough day. “It was a very long stage, I could even say maybe too long, under a scorching sun and hot temperatures. It was also very fast, with an average speed of 42km/h. The team worked hard all day to control the escapees and reel them in, which we did in the final 10km. I tried my best in the sprint, taking third and four bonus seconds, but Ewan proved the fastest of the bunch. Again, sensations were good and tomorrow is another day.”
It was another fantastic team effort for BORA-hansgrohe today, as Sports Director, Christian Pömer, explained. “Today, we put in again a powerful team performance. Cesare Benedetti controlled the breakaway throughout the day, and in the finale, the rest of the squad took over. Erik Baška did a great job in the lead out for Peter in the final stretch and brought him in an excellent position. It was evident that yesterday’s strong effort took its toll, but Peter still managed to fight and take a nice third place, bagging another precious four bonus seconds that will be important for the overall leadership.”
It’s a short stage tomorrow, but riders can’t let the 130km distance fool them. The parcours is undulating from start to finish, and includes four categorised climbs over its length. While not the toughest day of the race, all the riders will find the terrain hard going, and while the finish is relatively flat, the last climb of the day could act as a launch pad for a late attack.