At the end of the longest stage of the Tour of Britain, also the day with the highest volume of climbing, a mass finish sprint was unexpected and unpredictable. Dylan Groenewegen, the Dutch national champion, held off this year’s sprint discovery, Daniel McLay, with Ben Swift also in the mix as the two leading sprinters in the race, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel went missing at vital moments.
Cavendish’s legs gave out as the action hotted up in the Welsh hills 33km from the finish, although the Manxman was within a few hundred metres of regaining contact on the run-in. Greipel survived an initial sort-out that left a much reduced lead peloton in contention, but was poorly placed when the leaders hit the key corner, a right hand with 600 metres to go turn off the A470 main road into the Royal Welsh Showground, after which a series of tight turns made it impossible to move up.
Groenewegen received the perfect lead-out through the sequence of four bends from his team-mate, Tom Leezer, with McLay and Swift tucked in behind.
McLay was unable to get past once the LottoNL-Jumbo rider began his final effort, although the 24-year-old reiterated the progress he has made this season as he closed to within a wheel as Groenewegen took his seventh win of the season.
It was really tough today, such a long stage with a lot of climbing, said Groenewegen. I had a small chance of staying with the bunch but I did it. It was a hard finale, but I had four riders from the team there to work for me.
It was a result that did not alter the overall standings, where the Belgian Julien Vermote still leads by 6sec from Steve Cummings, although Swift and Tony Gallopin fought hard for time bonuses that may affect the final pecking order when the race finishes on London in Sunday.
With a light breeze from the south to slow the peloton down, the stage stretched to close on six hours. The time in the saddle made itself felt in the finale through Llanidloes and Rhayader after the end of an early escape including four riders including the Welsh rider Rob Partridge from local team NFTO, who are based just over the border in Hereford, the Italian Alessandro Tonelli and Caja Rural’s Miguel Ángel Díaz.
The Spaniard began the stage just under 5min behind Vermote, meaning the quartet was never given too much latitude. Vermote’s Etixx-Quickstep team had been speculating about relinquishing the race lead due to the difficulty of controlling the race with a team reduced in numbers after the loss of the young American Adrien Costa, but fortunately one of their three domestiques is the former world time trial champion Tony Martin and the need did not arise.
Once the peloton had initially regrouped 40km from the finish, Cavendish and other weaker climbers were eliminated as Team Sky and Cannondal-Drapac put on the pressure. Greipel lost contact briefly and there were repeated splits at the front featuring challengers for the overall standings in Daniel Martin and Tony Gallopin, but once the flatter main road after Rhayader had been reached, with Greipel, Groenewegen and a plethora of their team-mates still in contact – albeit far from comfortable – the sprint loomed.
On Thursday, a blanket finish again looks likely although the 200km through the Welsh Valleys, the Forest of Dean and the Cotswolds are not to be taken lightly. The final run-in to Bath off the hills – a fixture in Tours of Britain of old, but the first visit for the race’s most recent incarnation – is rolling but predominantly downhill. As the course turns south-west thoughts will turn to the two key stages, Haytor on Friday and the time trial in Bristol on Saturday morning.
News Source TheGuardianNews