Having defended the green leader’s jersey, as well as taking the stage victory, LottoNL-Jumbo were the most successful team on the penultimate stage of the Tour of Britain. But the most visible team on the race’s toughest stage was Katusha-Alpecin, who sent four of their remaining five riders on the attack at some point.
In the end, the Swiss team came away with a fourth place in the sprint thanks to European champion Alexander Kristoff. But, having started the late-stage attacking in earnest some 70km from the finish in Cheltenham, they can lay claim to having made the race.
“It was the first stage where you can really do something,” said DS Torsten Schmidt after the stage. “Now we had a hilly parcours, and we were looking for our chances. I think the guys did a really nice job. When I see the whole team working and fighting I’m happy with the boys.”
“We had to start at 80km to go; the parcours got harder than before so we had to start and early final to make the race hard,” he added. “Otherwise we would come again with a really controlled race from the bunch and there aren’t many stages here where you can do something with a really active race.”
First to go on the offensive was Tiago Machado, who escaped the peloton alone in search of the day’s early break, then three minutes up the road. He had opened up a minute gap over the peloton when, 15km later teammate Reto Hollenstein jumped into a move containing Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
Clearly a plan was afoot, but the pace of LottoNL-Jumbo behind put paid to it before the move got too dangerous. Almost immediately, world time trial champion Tony Martin leapt out of the peloton. With 30km of the stage remaining, a win was not out of the realms of possibility for the 32-year-old who lay sixth overall this morning.
“He had his chance and he looked for a chance to go away,” Schmidt said. “We knew about the last climb, that there would be action, but of course he had to look for his chance. He tried. With all five guys everyone gave their best.”
“I think with Tony we had a good chance to move up in GC,” a wet and grimy-faced Nils Pollitt added. “It was a good idea because the hour before was really fast, and then he counter-attacked. With Tiago and Reto we had two guys in front so in the end it was really good for us.”
Pollitt himself put in an attack, waiting until that final climb to try and escape the peloton. It wasn’t to be, but having a team sending almost every rider available on the offensive is something to be commended in modern cycling.
However, after the antics of today’s stage, tomorrow is all about points classification leader Alexander Kristoff and the probable sprint finish to end the race in Cardiff. The Norwegian leads the points classification by 11 points and only a disaster would see him lose the black and orange jersey.
“He finished fourth. Of course it’s a nice place but a win is a win eh?” said Schmidt. “I think tomorrow is a bunch sprint again. We have very fast guys here, and it’s a really fast peloton so it’s hard but he’s there every day so why not?”
Why not indeed. After all, that could’ve been Katusha’s motto today.