Few riders would be in a position to contest a hard sprint at the BinckBank Tour just days after riding almost the whole of the last week in the leader’s jersey at the Tour de Pologne, but today, Peter Sagan did just that. The UCI World Champion, brought to the line by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates, took on a long sprint before securing his 98th professional victory. After his third stage victory in this race, the Slovak rider will begin tomorrow’s stage in the green jersey of race leader.
The BinckBank Tour has something for every type of rider, and today, on a gentle and flat 169.8km stage, it would be the sprinters who took centre stage. While the terrain itself didn’t feature any challenges for the riders, without any climbs to trouble the peloton, on a day like today it would be the riders who would make the going tough, keeping the pace high and covering the distance rapidly. While much of the stage took place on open roads, there were some excursions onto narrower paths as the day went on, while towards the finale in Venray, there would be some roundabouts and street furniture to negotiate, making racing dangerous as speeds increased in the final kilometres.
Setting the tone for what would undoubtedly be a fast, combative stage, the break went away as soon as the commissaire started the day, a group of four quickly building an advantage of two minutes on the peloton. While the sprinters wouldn’t want to be denied a fast finale, there was plenty of time to reel this escape group in towards the end of the day, and so the break was left to their own devices. The pace was fast, with both the escape and the peloton riding at high speeds in the beautiful Dutch weather, with the gap never exceeding two minutes as a result. Keeping watch at the head of the peloton, BORA-hansgrohe’s German Champion Marcus Burghardt made sure that as the finish edged closer, the break was slowly brought back in, and with there being no race leader to protect, the other teams in the bunch were working with the German rider to make this happen. Safe in the bunch, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, had his eye on the stage victory, and was being protected by his teammates ahead of the finale
The gap dropping ever lower, there was a risk of making the catch too early, allowing another, more dangerous breakaway to go ahead. With this in mind, as the gap hit almost thirty seconds, the peloton reduced its speed and allowed the escapees an extra minute, confident they would be able to bring this back quickly in the final kilometres. In the space of just 10km, the group managed to reduce the gap from 1:40 to just fifteen seconds, and with the break looking over their shoulders and seeing the mass of the peloton looming large, they knew that after more than 160km on the front, it would be all back together for the final sprint. In the final kilometres, a succession of roundabouts and street furniture made the going hectic, splitting the bunch as the sprint trains massed to bring their riders to the line. With the other sprinters starting some way back, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, spurred into action closer to the line. As others dropped off, the distance just too far to maintain their speed, Peter kept going, taking his 98th professional victory and his third at this race.
While Peter’s win edged him closer to his hundredth, the Slovak rider had to wait to have it confirmed. “I was very lucky in the finish, because I was certain that I’d been passed on the line, but I took the win purely because I threw my bike at the last second. I didn’t even know I’d won until five minutes later. I didn’t want to go too early in the sprint – I wanted someone in front of me – so I waited until a little later before I went. The line was just too far away then, so I let Rüdi and Groenewegen keep the gap, and after that I started my sprint behind them so I had a better line, taking advantage of having two guys in front of me, but still Bauhaus did a great sprint. I’m going to keep going and fighting at the race. Tomorrow is a big day for everyone with a 9km time trial – it’ll be tough and we want to make the most of it for BORA-hansgrohe. It’s a good day for Maciej Bodnar, and I’ll try not to lose time myself.”
Sports Director, Jens Zemke, had more than one reason to be pleased with Peter’s win. “It was my first victory with Peter, so I am really happy about this. After some bad luck, finally, luck is back on our side again. The team worked perfectly together the whole day and we are here with a strong line-up. Even though it was really close today, it was a great start to this race. Now, the plan is not to lose time tomorrow, but with Bodi we have a strong time trial specialist in our squad.”
Tomorrow the riders will face an Individual Time Trial in the streets of Voorburg. The out and back route gives riders a good opportunity to build up some speed, but some twists and turns in the mid-section and the difficult nature of the street circuit course will mean the skilled bike handlers will be in with a better chance of taking the win on the short 9km circuit.