Devoid of teammates, and 20 riders all trying to dispose him of the yellow jersey he held by the slenderest margin of one second, Edvald Boasson Hagen beat and then bettered Team Sky’s tactics all on his own on Friday’s Aviva Tour of Britain stage six.
When all of five of Boasson Hagen’s MTN-Qhubeka teammates were distanced on the day’s first uncategorised climb of Gun Hill inside the first 20km, Sky upped the pace to unprecedented levels to try and deposit the Norwegian out of the back of the leading 30-man bunch, thus setting Woet Poels up to gain the yellow jersey at his expense.
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Boasson Hagen, though, delivered the first blow to Sky, crossing the opening sprint at Buxton in first to claim three bonus seconds; Poels, much the inferior sprinter, claimed one bonus second with third place.
Having increased his lead to three seconds, several breaks formed, all containing numerous riders a threat to the general classification, and Sky had to maintain the unremitting pace through the crosswind-affected Peak District lanes.
The perpetual attacks meant that there was no let-up but Boasson Hagen remained studious, tucking in behind the four Sky riders: Ben Swift, Ian Stannard, Pete Kennaugh and Poels.
When it became obvious that no one bar Poels could take time from him in the last 15km, the race’s 2009 winner shackled himself off Sky’s leash in the closing stages to take second behind winner Matteo Trentin, four seconds in front of the chasing pack, and picking up a further six bonus seconds; he has now taken 19 bonus seconds.
This weekend’s two final stages, from Fakenham to Ipswich today [Saturday] and a London criterium on Sunday, are likely to end in sprints or a victory for a breakaway, meaning that Boasson Hagen has all but secured his second Tour of Britain triumph.
In spite of their efforts in failing to garner the result they desperately tried, Sky coach Rod Ellingworth was quick to praise Boasson Hagen’s performance. He said: “I didn’t see a lot because I was in the second car but fair play to Edvald, a great ride. It was incredible, what with him being on his own for so long.
“I don’t think his team have done a particular good job for him but he’s done a great ride.”
Of the stage tactics, Ellingworth added: “Even if they’d [Sky] gone out with the purpose to race it full on, if it works, it works. If Edvald had got dropped and we’d done exactly the same thing, everybody would have said ‘wow, what a great performance’ so you just never know.
“If the course had been the other way round, as in the climbs towards the end, I think we would have been a lot more confident, but with the climbs being where they were it was only ever going to be a challenge for us, just purely because of how well Edvald is at that type of stuff.
“You can look back and say that there’s 50 things we could have done.
“From what the lads have said, yes there is things they could have differently but they chose to do something and it perhaps hasn’t quite worked for them.”
Steven Kruijswijk, LottoNL-Jumbo’s man who was 38 seconds shy of Boasson Hagen after stage five’s summit finish atop Hartside Fell, provided an insight into life in the front group.
“It never was a good situation for Sky because one time I was in the break and they closed the gap and then they had to ride again,” he told Cycling Weekly.
“It was really hard to get away and [even when] the roads in the end got a little bit easier there was a headwind.
“In the end Boasson Hagen accelerated and no-one followed. Sky had let him escape so he is comfortable now.”