There’s been a good deal of griping about the quality of the stages and the racing at the Tour of Britain, but no one could have any complaints about the penultimate stage into Gloucester. Victory went to Norway’s Rasmus Tiller, the Uno-X rider unleashing a powerful sprint that saw off Danny van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Great Britain’s Stevie Williams, and came after that rarest of things – Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) running out of juice when alone at the front and seemingly set for his second victory in three days.
The sight of the hills brought the bunch to life right from the start in Tewkesbury. A flurry of early attacks finally resulted in Britain’s Mark Donovan (Q36.5) and Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) going clear. After a good few kilometres out on their own, they were joined by Alexandar Richardson (Saint Piran), Liam Johnston (Trinity) and Abram Stockman (TDT-Unibet), who’s been an almost everyday presence in the escapes this week.
This Tour of Britain has been dominated almost completely by Jumbo-Visma from the start and, their clear intention was to set the stage up for their race leader Van Aert. Jos van Emden and Edoardo Affini made sure that the peloton stayed within catching distance of the five escapees, who worked well together and achieved a maximum lead of four minutes. This, though, had been whittled down to less than one approaching Crawley Hill, 25km from the finish.
Donovan led the break over the climb, Richardson losing contact on the way. Behind, Van Aert made the first of his accelerations, triggering the formation of an eight-strong group that also featured Williams, Q36.5’s Damian Howson, Uno-X’s Tobias Johannessen, Ineos’s Carlos Rodríguez and Movistar’s defending champion Gonzalo Serrano. What remained of the peloton bridged back up to this group coming off the hill.
As the peloton tackled an uncategorised climb with 12km left, Ineos’s Rodríguez crashed in the middle of the group, his fall causing some confusion. Van Aert took advantage of it to attack again. He went straight across to the three remaining members of the break, Stockman having been dropped, and barrelled by them. Turner and Donovan managed to get on his wheel, while Williams breezed up to this trio, the Welshman encouraging Van Aert to work with him as the peloton split into two parts behind them.
Their lead remained quite small, though. With 6km left, Bora’s Nils Politt accelerated out of the chase group and across to the four leaders, along with Movistar’s Gregor Mühlberger and Saint Piran’s Zeb Kyffin. As the these riders reached the group at the front, Van Aert attacked again. This time no one could get on his wheel. By then inside the 5km mark, it looked like he had the stage in his pocket.
Behind the Belgian, Uno-X duo Tiller and Johannessen led the pursuit. It seemed fruitless, with Van Aert flying at the front, but then came what’s become that rarest of moments – a Jumbo-Visma leader running out of legs. In the final two kilometres, the chasers began to gain on the Belgian, whose momentum was dropping.
With 500 metres to the line, the group reeled him in and sped onwards, Politt working for Van Poppel, while Johannessen teed up Tiller. The latter pair’s lead-out was more coordinated and it paid off, as Tiller held off his Dutch rival and Williams took third. Van Aert came through at the back of the group, his only consolation the fact that he’d managed to cling on to his rivals and maintain his three-second overall lead.
‘The first six stages of this race were all about bunch sprints, but we knew that it would suit us today and I’m really happy to have taken the win,’ said Tiller. ‘Tobias and Wout went away on the steep climb and I didn’t have the power to follow, I needed to pace a little and then come back. When it came back together I knew that I had a chance. Tobias did a really good lead-out and I managed to get the win.’
Race leader Van Aert admitted he’d been guilty of over-eagerness, perhaps encouraged by the intensity of the action. ‘I really enjoyed that final, we finally had some real racing and some action, it was a really different race,’ he said.
‘My teammates had a really hard day because the breakaway really went for it today and they had to pull really hard. I was about to lose all of my support so I wanted to attack as a way of defending my lead, but I was too enthusiastic and I made the mistake of making too many attacks instead of staying nice and calm and then taking my chance in the sprint.’
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