Stage six of the Aviva Tour of Britain was so frantic that riders declared it one of the toughest day’s racing of their career.
The stage from Stoke to Nottingham traversed the Peak District hills and the terrain, crosswinds and perpetual attacking immediately fractured the race, the grupetto finishing more than 40 minutes in arrears.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, devoid of teammates in the front group, increased his lead from one to 13 seconds from Sky’s Wout Poels after finishing second on the stage behind Etixx-QuickStep's Matteo Trentin.
Boasson Hagen earned nine bonus seconds on the stage, despite Sky spearheading the front bunch for much of the day, neutralising attacks from fellow GC hopefuls who hoped to reduce their deficit.
One of the riders targeting Boasson Hagen’s yellow jersey was Steven Kruijswijk, who was 38 seconds adrift prior to the stage. The LottoNL Jumbo rider finished seventh in this year’s Giro d’Italia and he likened the stage to that of a Grand Tour one.
“If I see the numbers on my power meter it was one of the hardest stages this year. I’d compare it to a Tour [de France] mountain stage with four or five big climbs in it. All day it was up and down,” he told Cycling Weekly.
“Right from the start, we turned to the right and we had crosswinds. It was attack after attack.
“Everyone was on the limit. After 120k everybody was looking at each other saying ‘we have to do another 70k'.”
Christian Rasmus Quaade, riding for his Cult Energy teammate Rasmus Guldhammer who was in third place 30 seconds back before the stage, spoke in similar tones. “I think it was one of the hardest stages I’ve ever done in my full career,” he said.
“We had to keep Guldhammer in a good position, and then we had to cover all the breakaways and everybody wanted to attack. That was really, really hard.
“We hoped that a breakaway could go away so it would be more easy but everybody wanted to have racing and it was just all day attacking and attacking.”
The Great Britain team had two riders in the front group: Tao Geoghegan Hart and recent Team Sky recruit Alex Peters.
“Tao was telling me his TSS [Training Stress Score] was 450 and that is off the scale,” Peters explained. “It was an insane day; how he’s going to recover!?
“It was the hardest stage. The pace was driven by attacks and Sky were pacing it. There was a lot of attacking because everyone had a lot to gain so they were taking the opportunity to attack, attack, attack.”
At the other end of the story, though, is the case of the grupetto riders. Ed Clancy, JLT-Condor’s sprinter who currently props up the overall standings, referred to the race as “the easiest so far. It wasn’t actually that bad, from my point of view,” he said.
“I got dropped on the first climb, got back on on the descent, and by then 30 guys had gone. That was it, we cruised around for the rest of the day.
“Almost everybody contributed at the front just to keep the pace going. It could have been an awful lot worse.”
Officially, riders who finish outside of the time limit - which is determined by 12 per cent of the finishing time - are disqualified. But with 76 riders outside the cut by 11 minutes, all will start stage seven in Fakenham.
“I figured they wouldn't chuck us out as Brad [Wiggins] was in it, too! Most of the guys in the grupetto were chirpy, chatting away,” Clancy added.
“A few of those from the bigger teams who were probably told they needed to be in it had their heads down, just hoping to get to the finish as quickly as they could."
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