With the days becoming progressively harder at the Tour de Pologne, BORA-hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan continued to look strong in the yellow jersey of race leader. Ably helped over the day’s climbs by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates, the UCI World Champion reached the finish in Rzeszów in a perfect position to contest a reduced bunch sprint, following a crash in the final kilometre. While blocked in the finale, Peter finished the day in third and extended his lead in the GC contest and maintained his hold on the top of the points competition.
Tied with stage 1 for the shortest day, it would be a mistake for any rider to think this 130km route would be easy. The parcours featured four categorised climbs, with three of these being second category. Even before the race reached the categorised climbs, the first half of the stage also saw some steep ramps, making the going tough from the outset. Undulating for the entire distance, with the last ascent cresting 10km from the finish, this final climb had the potential to be the perfect springboard for a late attack.
While the profile looked menacing, the hardest days were still to come, and so from the outset came the attacks, trying to gain some time and some points on the categorised climbs. With the harder ascents coming later in the day, it was important to build an advantage over the peloton before the road really turned upwards. A small group of four managed to escape, but with BORA-hansgrohe controlling the pace for race leader, Peter Sagan, these riders were unable to reach the three-minute mark over the bunch. The peloton made the most of a short lull in climbing between the third and fourth categorised climbs to reduce this gap to under two minutes.
Back in the peloton, the black jerseys and teal green helmets of BORA-hansgrohe were a familiar sight, including Rafał Majka, who was sitting third on the GC, as well as the yellow jersey of race leader, Peter Sagan, the UCI World Champion having been paced over the climbs by his teammates. A sudden rain shower drenched riders and saw one of the break slide out on the now slippery corners, but aware of this hazard, the team came through here safely. In spite of an attack, it was the break’s last gasp, and it was all back together with 3km to go, but the wet roads would make a sprint hazardous. Surfing Sky’s lead-out train, Peter was sitting a few riders back, avoiding a crash that split the bunch in the final kilometre, leaving a much-reduced bunch to contest the finale. While Peter had a strong position in the sprint, he was closed in as the final metres passed by and was unable to safely push to the line past Sky’s Danny Van Poppel, who took the stage, leaving Peter to take third.
In spite of being unable to take the stage win, Peter extended his lead in the GC contest to fourteen seconds. “Although it was short, today’s stage was very hard and very tricky as the rain and dirt on the roads made the course slippery. The team worked very hard to close the gap, first to the breakaway and then to Tejay Van Garderen when he attacked. Unfortunately, I was boxed in for the sprint but still, I finished third and took the bonus seconds. We are holding on to the yellow jersey with an advantage of 14 seconds now and I feel in good form but have two more stages ahead of us.”
BORA-hansgrohe Sports Director, Steffen Radochla, saw how the conditions made it hard for the riders today. “It was a short and very fast stage, with a lot of short climbs. We worked to keep the breakaway under control and close the gap. As expected, the escapees were caught and the stage finished with a sprint. We tried to place Peter in a good position, but the rain and slippery roads made it hard. Still, he showed his form and took third place, staying clear of the crash in the finale. We will now try to defend the yellow jersey.”
Another race of two halves awaits riders tomorrow. For the first half of the 189km stage, it’s a gentle uphill drag, but after this there are five first category climbs between here and the finish. There’s a short downhill on the back of this last climb, but a final kick up to the finish in Zakopane will break up the field – that is, those who manage to stay in touch this far.