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Having joined a late 8-rider group after the final intermediate sprint, Van Avermaet came around Sagan on the uphill drag to the finish to win stage 6 and take the overall lead at Tirreno-Adriatico; Kwiatkowski completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

GREG VAN AVERMAET

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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PETER SAGAN

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TIRRENO - ADRIATICO

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14.03.2016 @ 16:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) suddenly finds himself in the unexpected situation of leading Tirreno-Adriatico on the eve of the final stage after he took his second stage win ever in the Italian race on stage 6 of this year’s race. On a day that was expected to be decided in a bunch sprint, he joined an 8-rider breakaway after the final intermediate sprint and then came around Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in the uphill sprint to take both the win and the overall lead. Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) were the only other survivors from the break and had to settle for third and fourth respectively.

 

For many years, Greg Van Avermaet was famously known for his many places of honour. The strong Belgian always seemed to be up against faster riders in the races that suited him, most notably in the uphill sprints.

 

However, that has changed during the recent year. It all started when he beat Peter Sagan for the first time in last year’s Tirreno-Adriatico and since then he has proved himself stronger than the Slovakian in uphill sprints on numerous occasions. He did it again in Rodez at the Tour de France and in this year’s Omloup Het Nieuwsblad and that has made him confident that he is now able to take on the world champion in these finales.

 

That made him believe in his chances in today’s sixth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico which finished with a long gradual 5km uphill drag to the line. And again he came out on top after a fantastic battle with the world champion after a race that turned out to be much more dramatic than most had expected.

 

The stage finished with two laps of an 11.4km finishing circuit that had a downhill and flat part before the riders hit the uphill part in the finale and this is where the race came to life after the early break had been caught. There were bonus seconds on offer in the final intermediate sprint at the first passage of the line and that prompted Tinkoff to take complete control, with Maciej Bodnar and Manuele Boaro setting the pace.

 

As they approached the sprint, Tinkoff did a lead-out with Adam Blythe, Oscar Gatto and Daniele Bennati for Sagan. Van Avermaet, Michal Kwiatkowski and the Etixx-QuickStep trio of Fernando Gaviria, Matteo Trentin and race leader Zdenek Stybar also wanted to be part of the action and the peloton let those riders contest the sprint.

 

Blythe swung off and left it to Gatto and Bennati to deliver Sagan to an easy win ahead of Van Avermaet and Bennati. Usually, the riders would have dropped back to the peloton but Bennati went straight to the front to maintain the speed. Suddenly, an 8-rider group with Bennati, Gatto, Sagan, Kwiatowski, Van Avermaet, Trentin, Stybar and Gaviria had a 15-second advantage.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase with Luke Durbridge before Marco Coledan (Trek) and Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) took over. However, they were unable to match the front group in which everyone was working well and the gap had gone out to 25 seconds with 17km to go.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE returned to the front with Svein Tuft, Astana came to the fore with Valerio Agnoli and FDJ contributed with Johan Le Bon and Alexandre Geniez. Nonetheless, the gap had gone out to 35 seconds when they hit the climb for the second time.

 

Agnoli set Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) up for an attack in the steepest section and he was joined by Jan Bakelants (Ag2r). They reduced the gap to 20 seconds but Lampre-Merida and Daniel Oss (BMC) brought them back.

 

Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Johan Le Bon (FDJ) started to work before Fabian Cancellara (Trek) came to the fore. That set Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) up for an attack and when they crossed the line to start the final lap, a group with the likes of the Spaniard, Gianluca Brambilla, Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Damiano Caruso (BMC), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek) had gone clear.

 

The chasers reduced the gap to just 5 seconds but LottoNL-Jumbo brought them back just after the passage of the line. The escapees were now just 10 seconds ahead but it was still too much for Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) who made a failed attempt to bridge across.

 

The gap went out to 15 seconds when Movistar started to chase hard with Nelson Oliveira, Alex Dowsett and Rory Sutherland with 8km to go. However, the gap had gone out to 20 seconds two kilometres later which prompted Cancellara to lend them a hand.

 

The chase was pretty unorganized, with IAM also contributing a bit with Heinrich Haussler, and things didn’t get easier when a crash in the front end split the field and involved Leigh Howard (IAM), Simon Clarke (Cannondale), Oss, Michele Scarponi (Astana) and a few more riders. FDJ tried to take over again but the gap was still 20 seconds when Bennati ended his work with 4km to go.

 

Bauke Mollema and Stuyven (Trek) attacked on the climb and picked up Trentin who was the next rider to get dropped from the front group. Martin chased hard but failed to bring the Trek riders back.

 

Van Avermaet had been skipping turns for more than 5km but with the gap coming down, he again lend a hand with 3km to go. Meanwhile, Gaviria fell off the pace and was passed by the three chasers who were 12 seconds behind.

 

The chasers were caught just before the flamme rouge after a big work by Martin and then Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo took over, with Dowsett taking a huge turn. At the same time, Gatto emptied himself in the front group but as he swung off just after the flamme rouge, the tactical game started.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo and Caja Rural chased furiously while Kwiatkowski found himself on the front with no one willing to take over. Hence, he decided to launch a very long sprint with 500m to go and surprisingly Stybar cracked from second position. That created a gap that Sagan had to bridge and he went straight around Kwiatkowski, launching a long sprint. Van Avermaet stayed on his wheel and it became a drag race to the line, with the Belgian narrowly coming around the world champion to take the win. Kwiatkowski rolled across the line two seconds later, with Stybar losing four seconds in fourth. Seven seconds too late, it was Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) who beat Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the sprint for fifth.

 

On the stage, Van Avermaet picked up a total of 12 bonus seconds and this allows him to take the overall lead with a 7-second advantage over Stybar while Sagan is one second further adrift in third. He now faces the decisive time trial on the final day. The winner will be crowned after the usual 10.1km stage in San Benedetto del Tronto that has ended the race every year since 2012. It’s a completely flat, out-and-back course that suits the biggest specialists and has been dominated by Fabian Cancellara in the past.

 

A tricky finale

After the cancellation of the queen stage, the riders tackled a 210km stage that brought them from Castelraimondo to Cepagatti. After an early categorized climb, they hit the completely flat coastal road where they spent most of the day. In the finale, they did two laps of a difficult 11.4km finishing circuit that was slightly uphill for the final 5km. The climb had a steep start at 5% but then stayed around 1-3% until the finish where the strong sprinters and puncheurs were expected to shine.

 

It was cloudy when the riders gathered after an unexpected rest day. One of the favorites, Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), who has been sick before the race, had not recovered sufficiently and decided to stay at home while  the 178 remaining riders set out on the last part of the journey towards the Adriatic coast.

 

Lots of attacks

It was a slow start until Nicola Boem (Bardiani) launched the first attack. He was joined by Davide Vigano (Androni), Davide Villella (Cannondal) and Jesse Sergent (Trek), and the quartet built up an advantage of 16 seconds. However, the peloton reacted and brought things back together.

 

The aggression life into the stage and riders like Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Adrian Honkisz (CCC) and Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural) were all active. However, Movistar and Etixx-QuickStep neutralized everything during the first 13 kilometers.

 

Six riders get clear

Finally, a sextet managed to escape when Mirko Selvaggi (Androni), Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani), Ricardo Vilela (Caja Rural), Nikolay Mihaylov (CCC) and Federico Zurlo (Lampre-Merida) attacked. They quickly built up an advantage of 1.18 after 21km of racing. A little later they passed the last categorized climb of the race where Zurlo won the KOM sprint ahead of Selvaggi, Agnoli and Vilela which ensured Benedetti overall victory in the mountains competition.

 

On top of the climb, the gap had gone out to 5.45, and it was Orica-GreenEdge who had taken charge of the chase. They slowly started to reduce the gap that had dropped to 5.18 after 35km of racing. At the same time it started to rain slightly.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE set the pace

Orica-GreenEdge had reduced the gap to 4.12 after 43km of racing and then stabilized the situation. Then they again upped the pace and after 68km of racing the gap had dropped to 3.30.

 

Bora-Argon 18 lend them a hand, and so the gap was already down to 2.12 after 74km of racing. It was a fast start as the riders held an average speed of 44.4km/h during the first two hours. However, there was no stress in the peloton that allowed the lead to grow to 3.05 after 90km of racing.

 

Nordhaug goes down

A small crash in the area involved Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) while the peloton continued the steady pace. They reached the 100km mark with a deficit of 3.03 and then accelerated again. With 100km to go, the gap was down to 1.48, but then suddenly went out to 2.34 after 116km of racing. All the work was left to Orica-GreenEdge.

 

The gap began to fall again and reached 1.57. With 75 km to the finish, however, it had again gone out to 2.48 and here Vilela won the first intermediate sprint.

 

Tinkoff catch the break

Orica-GreenEDGE reduced the gap to 2.18 with 70km to go and it was down to 1.40 ten kilometres later. It started to melt away with 40km to go when the fight for position intensified and it was now Tinkoff that took control.

 

Bodnar and Boaro did a massive work as they hit the finishing circuit and with the gap down to just 40 seconds, Pirazzi and Mihaylov attacked. The rest of the group was caught while the front duo battled hard to defend a 15-second advantage but it was all in vain. With 25km to go, Tinkoff had brought it all back together to prepare the decisive move in the second intermediate sprint.

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