September 18, 2011 7 Comments
A breakaway win by Gediminas Bagdonas in the Tour of Britain‘s longest stage on Saturday preceded a double British success on the race’s final day, as Alex Dowsett claimed victory in the individual time trial before, predictably, Mark Cavendish brought the curtain down by bookending the race with his second sprint win. The one-two combination of Cavendish and Mark Renshaw won three stages between them, but overall victory went to double stage winner Lars Boom of Rabobank, who had led ever since stage three and was the most consistent rider of all.
Stage 7: Bury St Edmunds to Sandringham, 199.7km
Lithuanian Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post) prevailed in a sprint finish at the Sandringham Estate. The day’s six-man break were allowed to stay away all day by a peloton happy to conserve their energies for Sunday’s concluding double stage.
Faced with the longest stage of the race on its penultimate day, a determined breakaway was always likely to have a much higher than usual chance of surviving to the finish. Bagdonas initiated the escape early on and was joined by Ian Wilkinson (Endura), Mathieu Claude (Europcar), Wouter Sybrandy (Sigma Sport) Richard Handley (Raleigh), and Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen). The six riders established a seven-minute lead and never looked under serious threat. With all six breakaway men well down in the overall classification, Rabobank were content to ride a controlled but not excessive pace at the front of the peloton, happy for the break to sweep up the intermediate and finish line time bonuses to protect overall leader Lars Boom‘s advantage. And with the key sprinters’ teams – HTC-Highroad, Sky and Garmin-Cervélo – equally happy to keep their powder dry for the final day, the entire bunch was content to ride at a comfortable tempo throughout.
The six escapees worked well throughout, negotiating three minor climbs early on before maintaining a good pace on the long, flat run to the finish. Only in the final kilometre did the cat-and-mouse games begin, with the pace slowing to a near-standstill on a couple of occasions as the sextet eyed each other up as if competing in a track sprint. Bagdonas was initially forced to the front but first Handley and then Wilkinson attempted brief, half-baked attacks, which allowed him to drop back into a more favourable position and then catapult himself to the front in the final 100 metres to take an easy win.
The main peloton arrived 1:23 later and enacted an almost identical finish. World champion Thor Hushovd came to the front, launched a half-hearted attack, then thought the better of it, inadvertently providing a lead-out for Mark Cavendish to delight the assembled crowds by winning a barely contested sprint to take seventh place and nine valuable points which moved him to within three points of Boom in the points classification. Boom’s 28-second lead in the general classification remained intact.
Stage 7 result:
1. Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post) 4:33:17
2. Ian Wilkinson (Endura) same time
3. Mathieu Claude (Europcar) s/t
4. Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen) s/t
5. Richard Handley (Raleigh) +0:04
Stage 8a: London, 8.8km individual time trial
Sky dominated the short individual time trial that formed the first part of a final day London double-header, winning the stage with British time trial champion Alex Dowsett and also placing Steve Cummings and Geraint Thomas in the top five. But the biggest winner was Boom, whose second place extended his general classification lead to an unassailable 36 seconds.
The 8.8km route was essentially a straight blast along the Embankment to the Tower of London and back again, with just a couple of corners immediately after the start and just before the finish providing a minimal technical challenge.
Endura’s Swedish rider Alex Wetterhall set the early benchmark time of 10:33, which would eventually be good enough for sixth overall. He was eventually pushed off the top of the timesheets by Vacansoleil’s Lieuwe Westra, who recorded 10:19, with Dowsett in turn posting the eventual winning time of 10:14.
Sky teammate Cummings – the overall runner-up in 2008 – finished nine seconds behind Dowsett, fourth fastest and enough to leapfrog him up to second overall. As race leader, Boom set off last and was just a second down on Dowsett at the intermediate split, but faded slightly over the second half of the course. Nonetheless, his time of 10:19 was marginally faster than Westra’s – giving him his fourth top two finish in the race (two firsts, two seconds) and a 36-second lead over new second-place man Cummings.
Even Mark Cavendish got in on the act. Normally he would not give 100% in a time trial, but here he was looking to keep himself alive in the points competition. 13th place earned him three valuable points, leaving him 14 adrift of Boom – and six behind Thomas – to keep his slim hopes alive.
Stage 8a result:
1. Alex Dowsett (Sky) 10:14.73
2. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +0:05
3. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:05
4. Steve Cummings (Sky) +0:09
5. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:16
Stage 8b: London city circuit, 90km
The race finished with a crowd-pleasing 10-lap circuit of the same course used earlier in the day for the time trial. And the crowd were certainly left pleased, despite the late rain, as home favourite Cavendish led Mark Renshaw across the line, claiming his second victory ahead of next week’s World Championships, while Lars Boom finished safely to confirm his overall victory.
It came as little surprise when a rider from An Post – the race’s most aggressive team by far – attacked right from the start. Ronan McLaughlin shot away from the peloton, and was soon joined by 2009 British champion Kristian House (Rapha Condor). The pair pulled out a 33-second lead over the peloton, but with the majority of the circuit being run on the long, straight Embankment they were always within sight of the bunch. The gap gently edged downwards over the last couple of laps, and although House went on alone to start the final lap with a 19-second advantage, he was pulled in before the bunch doubled back at the Tower of London for the last time.
With the usual suspects massing for the final sprint on roads which were now damp and slippery after rain started to fall, Renshaw took up his familiar position near the front as they swept round the final right-hand corner by Big Ben onto Whitehall. Cavendish, mindful of the danger, tiptoed around fully 20 metres behind in fifth place, but then unleashed his familiar burst to pick off those ahead of him and take the victory ahead of his teammate with some ease. The two HTC-Highroad riders, in their final race together, therefore claimed their third one-two finish, with Cavendish taking two stages to Renshaw’s one.
Cavendish later explained his hesitancy at the final corner:
I didn’t want to take too many risks today with the Worlds coming up. It was a wet finish and I saw [Ben] Swift lose his wheel on the second last corner so I backed off on the last corner and ended up 20 metres behind coming out of it. I thought it was too far back to get it but I went for it anyway and I came through on the line.
It’s been really good to come away with three stage wins this week, can’t get much better. Not only that we got three first and second placings which is superb.
The gold jersey of Lars Boom finished safely in the pack, and he claimed overall victory by 36 seconds. After the stage, the Dutch rider said:
It was awesome. London is a very nice city. It’s a lovely country, I didn’t expect that. The public was awesome, a lot of cheering so it was a great week for us.
My most memorable moment was the first stage, the circuit, the small roads, the rain — it was awesome.
In addition to overall winner Boom, Geraint Thomas‘ fifth place in the final sprint was enough for him to win the points competition ahead of Cavendish. The sprint and King of the Mountains prizes had already been secured by An Post’s Pieter Ghyllebert and Rapha Condor’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, with the latter also placing fifth overall on GC.
Cavendish’s final burst in the broken sprint was a timely reminder of the savage acceleration he is capable of producing when he has a sniff of victory, confirming his status as favourite for next Sunday’s World Championship road race. Thor Hushovd also showed decent form during the week, but the biggest threat to Cavendish may well be Slovakian rider Peter Sagan (Liquigas), whose outstanding 2011 includes three wins at the Vuelta a España. Former teammate André Greipel has had an up-and-down season but is one of the few men to have beaten Cavendish in a head-to-head sprint this year, and he will form part of a twin German threat alongside Marcel Kittel, who has won 14 races in his first professional season, breaking the previous record for a neo-pro of 11 victories held by Cavendish himself.
Wins by Alex Dowsett in the time trial and Geraint Thomas in the points classification masked a disappointing race for Sky, who entered a very strong squad with two genuine overall contenders in Thomas and Steve Cummings. On a couple of occasions they had the opportunity to win stages and blow the race wide open, particularly on stage three in Stoke where they had their entire team in the decisive break, but a combination of questionable tactics, misfortune and a rival, Boom, at the top of his game conspired against them. Even given Thomas’ injuries sustained in a crash on stage six, Sky were never able to apply enough pressure on Boom and his Rabobank team to give Cummings a genuine shot at the overall win. Should the rumours of Cavendish’s arrival be confirmed – and, if true, it is a little surprising that it was not announced at the end of the race here – he will provide a sharper focus and ruthlessness for a team which is arguably a bit too democratic for its own good.
Anyway, the next stop is Copenhagen next week for the World Championships. Can Cavendish complete another barnstorming year with his first rainbow jersey?
Stage 8b result:
1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 1:59:13
2. Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) same time
3. Robert Förster (UnitedHealthcare) s/t
4. Geraint Thomas (Sky) s/t
5. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t
1. Lars Boom (Rabobank) 26:57:35
2. Steve Cummings (Sky) +0:36
3. Jan Barta (NetApp) +0:55
4. Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) +0:57
5. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Rapha Condor) + 1:03
6. Iker Camano (Endura) +1:07
7. Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) +1:12
8. Joost Posthuma (Leopard-Trek) +1:13
9. Leopold König (NetApp) +1:19
10. Daniel Lloyd (Garmin-Cervélo) +1:25
Tour of Britain recaps
- Boom in gold after Cavendish win (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Mark Cavendish warms up for Worlds with Tour of Britain stage win (guardian.co.uk)
- An Post’s Gediminas Bagdonas wins stage seven of the Tour of Britain (guardian.co.uk)
- Tour of Britain 2011: Lithuanian Gediminas Bagdonas wins breakaway to take stage seven in Sandringham (telegraph.co.uk)