By Kenny Pryde published
In reality this was the last stage open to the all-rounders (chancers) and sprinters before the two mountain stages and the final time trial. But it was Taylor Phinney (BMC) who took the biggest chance in the Tour of Poland.
There aren't too many stages in racing these days when the sprinters are outwitted and outridden by a solo rider on a ‘suicide' move in the closing kilometres of a race. But stage four of the Tour of Poland was just such an occasion when Taylor Phinney, so often a nearly-man at BMC, pulled off an audacious attack inside the final seven kilometres to win in Katowice with sprinters flat-out two lengths behind him. It was a surprise end to a day that looked to have ‘bunch sprint' stamped all over it.
Someone has re-written the rule book for flat stages. It is now obligatory that such stages start flat-out, within a couple of hundred metres of the stage start. Then, when the break is established, the peloton counts to 100 and then starts chasing. Sure enough, no sooner had the race been de-neutralised on the roll out from Tarnow than eight riders somehow formed at the front.
Let the record show that Miguel Minguez Alaya (Euskaltel), Francis De Greef (Lotto), Duarte Arevalo (Colombia) Dirk Bellemakers (Lotto), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Cesare Benetti (NetApp Endura), Kamil Gradek (Poland) and Pawel Franczak (Poland) had 2-35 after only 10 kilometres, proof that the peloton really was prepared to play the game and give them a decent head start into a stiff head wind.
By the time the peloton decided that enough was enough, their lead was only a little more than four minutes and they were barely halfway to Katowice. It was going to be a slow, lingering death for them, allowed to dangle in the breeze.
If the break had had access to a television monitor to see what the bunch was up to, they would have been gutted to note that, as teams nominated a rider to help maintain the gap (Garmin, BMC, Cannondale, AG2R, Belkin, Argos rode on the front) the rest of the bunch was chatting away, catching up on the latest transfer gossip, freewheeling and laughing. 72km to go, they had 2-50 but nobody was sweating - except the break, working themselves up for the second special sprint of the day.
Being a nationalistic, flag-waving bunch, the locals were pleased to see national team rider Gradek jump the break with 23km to go as the end was nearing for his fellow breakaway companions. Bt with 12km to go he had seven seconds and not even his hefty horsepower was going to prevent a bunch sprint. One kilometre late, he sat up and Belkin moved five riders to the front.
Phinney on a flyer
Which didn't dissuade Taylor Phinney - the man who gave his BMC team mate Thor Hushovd such a fine lead-out the day before - going for a flyer with just under seven kilometres to the line. It wasn't so much an attack as a slide to the side and a strong acceleration. Inside 5km to the line he had 15 seconds and, riding strongly, the gap looked good, though still nobody believed he could hold on.
With two kilometres he somehow had 16 seconds and finally got down in the drops of his handlebars. Amazingly, astonishingly, he held off the bunch, looking back 10 metres before the line to check he had done it, with enough time to throw his hands in the air. Two wins in two stages for BMC, the team are on a roll.
Phinney was euphoric. "It was really, really painful but when we were riding the finishing circuit I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could attack somewhere on it', just to try an attack, maybe some guys will come with me and we could go to the finish line. But when I was out there by myself I thought that, OK, I'll just go into time trial mode.
"I know that the teams being only six guys in the back are not as strong as they would normally be. So I just gave it everything my whole body was just finished by the time I got to the line. But I felt really, really good all day - we rode at the front too (chasing the break) the team has been great, really cohesive and worked well together so it's great to do this two days in row."
It wasn't really a planned attack then?
"No, the plan was to work for Thor in the sprint again, but he said that it was not a great sprint for him, and I said ‘Hey maybe I could attack here and he said ‘Yeah, why not, so that maybe I should attack and make it hard for the other teams and then he would find his own way in the sprint. I was almost not going to do the attack, but when I saw Agnoli go I thought maybe I could go with him, it would be us two but then he didn't really get on my wheel and it ended up just me by myself (laughs). I've always wanted to win a race in this fashion, like this, it's my first pro road race win and its a really cool way to do it."
Phinney's assessment of what would happen behind him was spot-on. Because, if BMC had won two stages in two days, young Aussie Steele Von Hoff of Garmin had got two second places on consecutive stages. In fact, as far as his Garmin Sharp directeur sportif Eric Van Lancker was concerned, his man had at least won the bunch sprint.
"It's something. The thing is that with only six riders per team it's hard to get the sprint right. We had a guy riding on the front of the bunch all day, so he was out, then you have the sprinter and that doesn't give you enough options in the finale. I don't think anyone was expecting Phinney to attack - or to accelerate the way he did and he got 15 seconds really quickly.
"When that happened, because everyone is short of riders to commit in the finish, there was a little bit of hesitation and that was it. But Steele is young and very fast - you saw how quickly he closed on the two stages - so he's a big talent for the future."
In the meantime, Phinney, another young talent, was two bike lengths ahead of Von Hoff and everyone else.
Tour of Poland 2013, stage four: Tarnów to Katowice, 231.5km
1. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing in 5-40-17
2. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp
3. Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Ag2r
4. Aidis Kruopis (Gre) Orica-GreenEdge
5. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Argos-Shimano
6. Thor Hushovd (Nor) BMC Racing
7. Luka Mezgec (Slo) Argos-Shimano
8. Bartlomiej Matysiak (Pol) CCC Polsat
9. Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale
10. Daniel Schorn (Aut) NetApp-Endura all same time
Overall classification after stage four
1. Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo-Tinkoff in 21-55-02
2. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 4 secs
3. Christophe Riblon (Fra) Ag2r at 6 secs
4. Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge at 7 secs
5. Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 9 secs
6. Chris Anker Sorensen (Den) Saxo-Tinkoff at 9 secs
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r at 13 secs
8. Eros Capecchi (Ita) Movistar at 13 secs
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack-Leopard at 16 secs
10. Thomas Rohregger (Aut) RadioShack-Leopard at 18 secs
Race leader Rafal Majka
Alex Howes chases
Taylor Phinney's solo attack
Taylor Phinney keep the sprinters at bay to take the win
Rafal Majka celebrates another day in the lead
Hushovd sprints to win Tour of Poland stage three
Riblon takes solo win on stage two of Tour of Poland
Stage one: Ulissi wins Tour of Poland opener
Tour of Poland 2013: The Big Preview