By Kenny Pryde
While BMC endured a less that stellar Tour de France, the non-Tour team has been making up for it in Austria, Wallonie and now Poland. Thor Hushovd won his second stage of the Tour of Poland and the team's third on the bounce in Zakopane.
It's no secret that BMC has been a team in transition this year, re-thinking the way it is going about its business. While the Tour de France was a bit of a nightmare, there are signs that the BMC re-boot is having an effect, as Thor Hushovd won an ‘slow' uphill power sprint in Zakopane on stage five of the Tour of Poland. It was his second and the team's third in as many days. First though, the day's formalities had to be observed; the early break had to go and then caught.
Just for once the first move that made an effort wasn't the one that stuck. There were a few tentative moves - Movistar's Pole Sylvester Szmyd had a go - but the third one was the one that stuck.
BMC's Matthias Frank, FDJ's Finnish road champion Jussi Veikkanen (he's on Strava, folks), Michal Golas, another Omega Pharma Pole, Nikolay Mihaylov, Bulgarian on the Polish CCC Polsat team, Angel Madrazo (Movistar), Pawel Cieslik (Poland) and Tomaz Marczynski, Vacansoleil's Polish rider who had more reason than most to ride - it was his home Tour and unemployment was looming.
Seven riders, three Poles, a Finn, a Bulgarian, a Swiss and a Spaniard. Given the statistics of the number of Poles in the pro peloton, that break actually represented 33.3% of all Polish Elite riders in one move. That's the motivational effect of national Tours for you. Five minutes up after 75km, that was as good as it got and there were still 98km to go. By 62km to go, at the feed, they had 2-20 but nobody was under any illusion that it was going to got to the line.
The roads were smooth, wide and fast-rolling, though four or five percent for up to six kilometres did enough damage, at the front and the rear. 26km to go it was curtains as the thinning bunch caught them. There were two hills left, the last one only 3km to the line. In fact the sprint to the line was a leg-sapping affair, more than a drag, less than a pukka climb in the shadow of the Zakopane ski jump. But, even as it looked like a straightforward, superfast ride to the line, a break slipped away.
Six riders went briefly clear with 16km to go - among them AG2R's second placed on GC Christophe Riblon looking for another few seconds - but with national pride at stake as well as the race leader's yellow jersey on his shoulders Rafal Majka and his Saxo Bank team were never going to let that go.
Having said that, they took their time, with Bradley Wiggins putting in a big turn with seven kilometres to go, an effort reminiscent of some of the turns he did for Mark Cavendish in the 2012 Tour. After 11km of effort, the break was caught with 5km to go as the road ramped up for the final KOM climb of the day. The do or die efforts all died and in the short, steep plunge through Zakopane's streets, the strung out remnants of the bunch was together - or as as all together as it could be as gaps opened between wheels.
And, lurking in the first four riders inside the final uphill kilometre was the jersey of the Norwegian champion, Thor Hushovd, the winner two days ago. If he hadn't been confident about yesterday's downhill ultra-rapid sprint (giving his team mate Taylor Phinney the nod to go for the American's winning solo effort), today's uphill effort was more suited to him and he made no mistake, holding off Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) and Cannondale's Danielle Ratto. For all that it was a ‘sprint' finish, the hectic finale and strung out bunch meant that there were always potential splits in the bunch, a fact Sky's GC man Sergio Henao was well aware of.
"It was a tricky day" said the Colombian as he warmed down on the rollers (at 145 watts and 95rpm, SRM fans, #transparency, #numbers, etc, etc.) "with so many climbs near the finish we had to take care, but Rigo (Uran) and Bradley were with me all day. The effort that Bradley made to chase down the break with Riblon in it at the end was great, he was such a good team mate today." In the final three kilometres, it was Uran who made sure that Henao was at the sharp end in the hectic attack-a-thon dash to the line.
But that was only one reason why Henao didn't lose any time. If only overnight race leader Rafal Majka and his Saxo team had been paying attention to the rule book, as he lost the race lead to Euskaltel's Jon Izaguirre by one slender second. The Polish crowd weren't the only ones who were shocked.
It turned out that by winning the final two climbs, inside the final 20 kilometres, Izaguirre ended up with a hefty 10 second time bonus. Time bonuses for climbing points? Well, under new UCI prescribed and endorsed rules designed to spice up racing, there are points on offer for all the various sprints and hill climbs all day, all of which add up to a mini classification each day, the winner of which gets 10 seconds. The rule has been in effect since the start of the race, but previous recipients of the time bonus have been so far down on GC that it made no impact.
But not today, as the Basque rider's climbing performance gave him 10 seconds, which was enough to move him from fifth overall to first in one mighty bound. Majka was putting a brave face on it but it's hard to imagine that there wouldn't be a heated inquest in the Saxo bus after the stage.
Or maybe it wasn't an accident? With the key mountain stage tomorrow, his Saxo team won't have to defend him or the jersey. Either way, the profile and climbs on tomorrow's 'etape Reine' (the phrase 'Queen stage' is bogus and has no place in Anglo cycling. It's either a French phrase or shouldn't be used, are we agreed?) will mean today's seconds won and lost won't matter anymore.
Tour of Poland 2013, stage five: Nowy Targ to Zakopane, 160.5km
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) BMC Racing in 3-54-40
2. Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ
3. Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale
4. Luka Mezgec (Slo) Argos-Shimano
5. David Tanner (Aus) Belkin
6. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky
7. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida
8. Christophe Riblon (Fra) Ag2r
9. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Argos-Shimano
10. Georg Preidler (Aut) Argos-Shimano all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1. Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi in 25-49-41
2. Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo-Tinkoff at 1 sec
3. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 5 secs
4. Christophe Riblon (Fra) Ag2r at 7 secs
5. Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge at 8 secs
6. Chris Anker Sorensen (Den) Saxo-Tinkoff at 10 secs
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r at 14 secs
8. Eros Capecchi (Ita) Movistar at 14 secs
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack-Leopard at 17 secs
10. Thomas Rohregger (Aut) RadioShack-Leopard at 19 secs
Tim Duggan chases
Fabian Cancellara attacks
Thor Hushovd wins
Jon Izaguirre gets the cuddly green dinosaur
Phinney's late attack nets him Poland stage four
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
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