August 6, 2011 1 Comment
Cycling is often a sport of seconds, and that was amply demonstrated in an exciting final two stages of the Tour of Poland. First defending champion Daniel Martin won stage six to take a three-second lead into the last day in Kraków, and then two second-place sprints by erstwhile yellow jersey Peter Sagan were enough – just – to move him back to the top step of the podium as the overall winner by six seconds. And it was also fitting that Marcel Kittel, the young German who held the race lead for the first three days, should complete the circle by winning the final sprint to take his fourth stage win.
Stage 6: Bukovina to Bukowina Tatrzańska, 207.7km
2010 champion Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) put in a succession of attacks in the closing kilometres which finally succeeded in netting him the stage win and also distancing the yellow jersey of Peter Sagan by enough to snatch the overall lead. The Irishman moved in front by three seconds ahead of the final stage in Kraków.
Ten riders formed the day’s breakaway, including Polish riders Jacek Morajko (CCC Polsat) and Michal Golaś (Vacansoleil-DCM). They built a maximum advantage of 5:25 before beginning to splinter, with Leopard-Trek’s Thomas Rohregger the last to be caught with 25km remaining.
Saxo Bank-SunGard then came to the front to force the pace, setting up their Polish rider Jarosław Marycz to launch himself clear on the penultimate descent of the day. He was subsequently joined by RadioShack’s Geoffroy Lequatre, but both were reeled in as Sky upped the pace.
The tempo was too much for Sagan, who slipped off the front group, prompting Martin to attack on the steepest section of the penultimate climb. Only Sky’s Peter Kennaugh was able to follow, but when Martin kicked again he too fell away and the Garmin leader crested the summit alone. However, with Liquigas teammate Vincenzo Nibali helping to pace Sagan back on the descent, Martin was quickly pulled back. CCC Polsat’s Marek Rutkiewicz then launched a kamikaze solo attack off the front, exceeding 100kph as he eked out an eight-second gap on the leaders’ group.
Inside the 3km mark, Martin kicked hard twice but could not shake off a gritty Sagan, who was riding like a man inspired by the yellow jersey on his shoulders. Both Rutkiewicz and the attacking Oliver Zaugg (Leopard-Trek) were caught before the last kilometre, where Sky’s Steve Cummings attacked and was allowed build a ten-second lead as the others watched each other and hesitated. It looked to be a winning advantage, but as the road kicked up in the final 500 metres the British rider faded dramatically as Vacansoleil’s Wouter Poels dashed off the front of the chasing group. Martin immediately responded, finally cracking Sagan as he streaked past the Dutchman to claim an easy victory. Poel’s teammate Marco Marcato beat Lampre’s Polish rider Przemysław Niemiec for third, and Sagan was in the second small group which followed them home.
The yellow jersey was 13 seconds down on Martin, who had started the day 20 seconds behind him. But after applying his ten-second stage winner’s bonus, the Irishman had stolen the race lead by the slim margin of three seconds.
Martin said afterwards that the stage win had been his first priority, with the yellow jersey being a bonus. He admitted that he might need some assistance to defend his lead, however:
I really gave it my all today. I attacked in order to win the stage; the leader’s yellow jersey comes as quite a surprise. It will be hard to hang on to it tomorrow but let’s see what happens. Sagan is faster than me, but on our team we have Haussler, who can bust a good sprint, so we’ll see.
The result meant that either Sagan or Marcato could yet snatch overall victory from Martin by winning the final stage in Kraków, leaving the Irishman hoping that his team’s sprinter Heinrich Haussler and others could help defend his position by preventing them from doing so.
Stage 6 result:
1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 5:41:05
2. Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) + 0:01
3. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:04
4. Przemysław Niemiec (Lampre-ISD) same time
5. Tiago Machado (RadioShack) +0:06
Stage 7: Kraków, 128km
In the end, a pair of second places at the intermediate and final sprints gave Peter Sagan the bonus seconds he needed to snatch back the yellow jersey at the death. Skil-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel completed a clean sweep of the four sprint stages in Kraków, but that was not enough to prevent 2010 winner Daniel Martin from missing out on his second overall win by the wafer-thin margin of six seconds.
The final stage saw the riders cover ten laps of Kraków with an intermediate sprint point coming 30km from the finish. An early break saw Jacek Morajko (CCC Polsat) – for the second day in a row – and Alexandr Pliuschin (Katusha) move clear of the peloton, although Morajko subsequently dropped back and Pliuschin was then joined by teammate Luca Paolini, Daniele Righi (Lampre) and Tomasz Marczyński (CCC Polsat).
However, the quartet was always doomed to failure, as Liquigas and Vacansoleil moved to the front of the bunch to ensure that Sagan and Marco Marcato would have the opportunity to chase bonus seconds at the intermediate. They were duly swept up a kilometre from the sprint. Garmin sent Heinrich Haussler to contest the sprint to protect Martin’s lead, and as Sagan attempted to squeeze between him and the barrier on the inside of a right-hand bend Haussler gently closed the door, leading to much remonstrating from the Slovakian after he had beaten across the line, with Marcato third. At the time, that left Sagan a single second adrift of Martin, although the commissaires would later promote Sagan to joint-first, gifting both him and Marcato a bonus second.
In the lull after the sprint, Marczyński and Nelson Oliveira (Radioshack) attacked off the front. With Sagan and Marcato still focussed on the possibility of the overall win, this was always going to be no more than one last futile gesture, but the pair built up a lead of 1:18 before the peloton led by Sky and supported by Liquigas and Skil-Shimano stepped it up a notch and brought them back in at lesiure, with Marczyński finally succumbing at the 2km banner.
Into the final kilometre, Liquigas controlled the front of the bunch for Sagan, but it was Astana’s Simon Clarke who was the first to open up with a long-range attack. He was soon overhauled by HTC-Highroad’s Leigh Howard‘s better-timed effort but Kittel, sitting on his wheel with Sagan immediately behind him, was able to pick his moment and power his way to his fourth victory of the week. Sagan followed his slipstream to second a length behind, with Howard a further 1½ lengths behind in third. Haussler could only finish fourth.
Both stage and overall winner punched the air as they crossed the line, completing outstanding weeks for the two men who won six out of seven stages and led for all but one day between them. Martin had to settle for second overall, six seconds down and just one ahead of Marcato in third.
The 21-year old Sagan is only in his second season as a pro, but has already proven himself to be a top talent, winning stages at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Tour of California, the Tour of Sardinia and the Tour de Suisse before this week’s success. He will be a major threat to claim a maiden Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta a España, which starts in two weeks’ time – look for him on flat stages which require power as well as outright speed.
After confirming his overall win, he said:
This is one of the greatest successes of my career. I had doubts over whether or not I would be able to get back the yellow jersey that I lost yesterday. For me, the race was training for the Vuelta — but to win it, that’s not too bad.
In addition to the overall, Sagan also won the points competition ahead of Marcato and Kittel. Vacansoleil’s Michał Gołaś ensured there was a Pole on the final podium by winning the mountains classification.
Stage 7 result:
1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 2:50:00
2. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) same time
3. Leigh Howard (HTC-Columbia) s/t
4. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t
5. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 26:40:00
2. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:06
3. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:07
4. Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:23
5. Peter Kennaugh (Sky) +0:25
1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 99 pts
2. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) 89
3. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 80
1. Michał Gołaś (Vacansoleil-DCM) 85 pts
2. Francisco Javier Vila Errandonea (De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia) 47
3. Ruslan Pidgornyy (Vacansoleil-DCM) 45
Links: Official website
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