Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) took victory on stage six of the 2018 BinckBank Tour, attacking from a breakaway group with just over a kilometre and holding his advantage to the line at the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park in Sittard-Geleen.
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The Austrian had bridged across to the two out front leaders Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step) along with Dylan van Baarle (Sky) with 2.5km to go, and took advantage of a lull in the intensity to attack, with no-one able to peg him back.
Stybar and his team-mate Max Schachmann – who had bridged to the lead group just as Mühlberger attacked – were the two who tried hardest to close him down, but there was nothing the riders behind could do except to try and sprint for second place as they arrived three seconds behind the winner.
Wellens was the rider able to take second, with Stybar claiming third, van Baarle in fourth and Schachmann in fourth.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) made a late move with Søren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) to gain three seconds on the bunch, but no-one was able to unseat race leader Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), who fought hard throughout the hilly stage to hold on to the lead, which sits at — as he finished in the main group.
How it happened
After around 50km of racing, a four-man breakaway group of Matthias Brändle (Trek-Segafredo), Nick van der Lijke (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale) got away and were allowed to gain around six minutes maximum gap.
Quick-Step Floors worked hardest on the front to control things over the 20 climbs to be taken on over the 182.2km route.
That saw the gap to the break reduced to just 2-30 with 90km remaining, with the catch finally made with around 45km left as the GC favourites looked make an impact on a crucial day in the race.
The early catch invited attacks from other potential breakers though, and Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo) the next to get away. They gained a maximum gap of around a minute, but attacks from the overall favourites brought their move to an end with around 16km to go.
Tim Wellens was the riders to first attacks off the front towards the break, with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step) going with him. Greg Van Avermaet and Michael Matthews (Sunweb) were also able to bridge across and form an elite leading group that continued to just hold an advantage over the peloton, including race leader Matej Mohoric, with 10km to go.
While riders from behind began to bridge across, Wellens was on the attack again and managed to pull out a few seconds advantage on the enlarged group behind.
A number of riders tried to bridge across to Wellens, including Mohoric, but it was Zdenek Stybar who was the first to make it with 4km to go.
That leading pair became a four with 2.5km to go as Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky) made it across from the second group.
Max Schachmann was the next rider to make it across in the final 2km, but as he joined Mühlberger went off solo, with no-one reacting quick enough to immediately follow him.
The Quick-Step duo did their best to try and close him down, but the Bora rider had established a big enough gap with 500m to go that he just needed to stay upright to claim victory.
Stybar was unable to beat Wellens in the sprint for second as van Baarle settled for third, while Schachmann finished two seconds behind.
Mohoric safely finished in the main bunch to take an overall lead of 30 seconds into the final stage, a 215.6km stage from Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure to Geraardsbergen with ascents of the Muur and the Bosberg along the way.
BinckBank Tour 2018, stage six: Riemst to Sittard-Geleen (182.2km)
1 Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-05-10
2 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 3s
3 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
4 Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky, all same time
5 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors, at 5s
6 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team, at 8s
7 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb, same time
8 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale, at 11s
9 Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
10 Mads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Katusha-Alpecin, all same time
Overall classification after stage six
1 Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida, in 20-34-12
2 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, at 30s
3 Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij, at 32s
4 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb, at 34s
5 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors, at 35s
6 Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 36s
7 Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto Soudal
8 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 37s
9 Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky, at 44s
10 Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 47s